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Foodborne and Waterborne Illness : Overview

Foodborne and waterborne illnesses are common, but often unrecognized. Many illnesses carried by food or water are particularly common in the developing world, due to poor sanitation, polluted water, and lack of refrigeration. However, about 20 percent of all cases of diarrhea in the United States are believed to be caused by foodborne or waterborne illness, resulting in approximately 76 million illnesses, 300,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 deaths yearly.

The most common symptom is diarrhea, defined as six or more soft or water-like stools daily. Episodes vary considerably. For example, severe bacterial infections may cause diarrhea every 30 minutes. The primary concerns in patients with diarrhea are dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and kidney failure, among other disorders.

Rarely, food or waterborne illness may be associated with more severe complications, such as anemia, seizures, and blood, liver, heart, or lung disease.

Complete avoidance of foodborne illness may not be possible. However, risk can be minimized through proper cooking and handling to avoid cross-contamination. Risk is further reduced by avoiding foods of animal origin. However, certain plant foods may also be contaminated during production, processing, or handling.

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Foodborne and Waterborne Illness: Types of Infection >>