Symptoms of foodborne illness can include stomach pains, nausea, fever, and diarrhea. Consult a healthcare provider when any of the following is present with diarrhea:
• High fever- a temperature over 101.5ºF
• Blood in the stools (bloody diarrhea)
• Prolonged vomiting, which prevents keeping even liquids down (this can lead to dehydration)
• Signs of severe dehydration, such as dry mouth, decreased urination, dizziness, fatigue, sticky saliva, sunken eyes, low blood pressure or increased heart rate and/or breathing rate
• Confusion or difficulty reasoning
— OR —
Adults: Diarrhea that lasts more than 3 days
Children: Diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
Note: Trust your instincts with your children’s symptoms. You know your child best.
Be diligent about personal hygiene. Wash hands with soap and hot water often and thoroughly. Be extremely careful when caring for someone who is ill. If possible, have the ill person use one bathroom, separate from the rest of the family.
If only one bathroom is available, clean and disinfect it after every use. Carefully seal and throw away dirty diapers. Don’t share food and drinks while ill. Anyone who is sick or recovering should not prepare food. Even after you begin to feel better you may still be contagious.
To avoid dehydration from diarrhea or vomiting make sure you replace lost fluids. If diarrhea is severe, rehydration solutions available at the pharmacy, such as Pedialyte (even if you are an adult), can be helpful. Diarrhea happens because your body is trying to rid itself of toxins, so you may not want to take antidiarrheal medications unless directed by a healthcare provider.
Ask questions before taking antibiotics for a suspected foodborne illness. If caused by a virus, antibiotics will have no effect. In some cases, such as with E. coli O157:H7 infection, taking antibiotics can lead to a more severe syndrome.
If you or your doctor suspect a foodborne illness, it is very important to run additional tests to find out which pathogen is making you sick. This ensures that you get the correct form of care and treatment, and will provide important public health information, which can assist in preventing the next person from getting sick.
Your infection can be diagnosed by specific laboratory tests requested by your healthcare provider. Bacterial illnesses are found by stool culture tests on fecal samples taken and sent to the laboratory. Viruses are harder to identify, and are usually found by testing stool for a specific virus’ genetic markers. Parasites are identified by examining stool samples under the microscope. At the time of these tests, ask your healthcare provider when results will be available and who will contact you.
Positive results may indicate the pathogen, but negative results can mean many different things, including false negatives. Talk to your doctor about further tests if your illness cannot be confirmed. Knowing which pathogen has made you or a loved one sick can help treat the current illness as well as understand what may occur in the future.
If you or your healthcare provider suspects a foodborne illness make a list of everything eaten in the seven days leading up to the illness. Make this list as soon as you can so it is as complete and accurate possible. The last thing you ate is most likely NOT what made you sick. This critical information may help you figure out what food caused the illness. Or it may help your health department determine if it’s part of an outbreak, saving others from the same illness. For incubation/onset period ranges click here.
Gather and save all relevant grocery store, restaurant and travel receipts for the time period you suspect the illness took place (remember many foodborne illnesses are caused by something you ate days or weeks ago). Do not give anyone your receipts without making copies. Often, if you use a store’s discount card, this information can be requested from the grocery store.
If you still have access to any food/beverage products you suspect made you ill, handle them as little as possible, keep them sealed and cold/frozen, so they can be tested them if necessary. Label these items so that no one else eats them. If health authorities ask for them at a later point, give them a representative portion of the sample and not the entire sample, if possible.
Contact your state or local health department with a suspected or confirmed case of foodborne illness. Every health department is different and they will vary in response. If you or a family member are confirmed with a case of a reportable illness, insist on an interview from the health department about where and what you or the sick person ate. This may mean filling out a very detailed questionnaire. Contact STOP for assistance in dealing with your health department or figuring out the source of your illness.
Use your social media to see if anyone else you know or in your community, group or school has a similar illness. Check a site like iwaspoisoned.com for possible information about others who may have gotten sick. Sometimes local media know of outbreaks or other illnesses in the area, so reach out to them as well. Also check e-Alerts to see if there have been any recalls for foods you have eaten or outbreaks of the illness for which you tested positive. You can also find information about past recalls and outbreaks there.
Call STOP’s Helpline at 1-800-350-STOP which exists to help people who think they may have a foodborne illness.
Email STOP at firstname.lastname@example.org.