Food poisoning occurs throughout the world due to the consumption of improperly cooked seafood and contaminated water. The majority of cases appear during the warmer months of the year, as in Thailand where most cases occur during the months of March and April. In Thailand, rates of food poisoning have been increasing. One report states, however, that out of 100 cases of food poisoning, on average 0.1 – 6.0 are reported due to the fact that people with mild symptoms rarely go to a clinic for examination or care.
According to data gathered by the Agency of Epidemiology at the Department of Disease Control, during the period from January 1 until June 2 of 2014, there have been 490,769 cases in the 77 provinces of Thailand, with an incidence rate of 772.56 cases per 100,000 people. There have been 5 deaths reported, at a rate of about 0.01 deaths per 100,000.
Characteristics of the illness in the majority of cases includes diarrhea and abdominal pain. Some people experience nausea, vomiting, fever or headaches, with some even experiencing symptoms similar to dysentery. At times, there may be blood or mucous in the stool, a high fever, or high white blood cell count. In mild cases, the illness lasts anywhere from 1 to 7 days with a typical incubation period of 6 – 25 hours, although it can appear anytime in the period of 4 – 30 hours. As for cases where the infection spreads to other systems of the body or results in death, these are quite rare.
Transmission of food poisoning rarely occurs between people, but rather arises due to ingesting raw or poorly cooked seafood, food contaminated from other sources, or even food which has been stored with unclean ice.
Mild food poisoning is often not serious and treatment corresponds with the symptoms. For example, for an upset stomach, while one replenishes lost water and mineral salts with oral rehydration therapy, antibiotics are not necessary.
If more severe symptoms appear, such as persistent vomiting, an inability to consume food or liquid, a persistent loss of fluid, or a fever, such cases should be seen by a doctor, especially in the young or elderly.
Prevention of food poisoning is the most important step in treatment. Prevention measures can be outlined in the following 10 rules:
1) Select food that has been prepared well.
2) Cook food well so that it is hot throughout.
3) Consume freshly prepared food.
4) Be careful that already cooked food does not become contaminated.
5) Any food touched by hands should be well cooked before being consumed.
6) Separate cooked and uncooked food to avoid cross-contamination.
7) Wash hands before handling food.
8) Keep the kitchen,cooking equipment, and utensils clean.
9) Protect the food from insects, mice, and other animals.
10) Use clean water at every step while cooking.
While sometimes we cannot avoid eating food put before us, we can choose how we go about eating it. The Department of Disease Control’s campaign slogan is: “Eat hot food, use the serving spoon, and wash your hands!” With just this you can travel safely without fear of a stomach ache or food poisoning.
By Dr. Sopon Mekthon Director General, Department of Disease Control, Ministry of Public Health.