The Facts About Food Poisoning And How to Treat It

How to recognize food-poisoning symptoms and how to treat them.



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Afraid a sudden onslaught of tummy troubles may be linked to all that yummy picnic fare? Here's all you need to know about the signs of food poisoning and the steps to treat them.

1. Symptoms generally develop a few hours to a few days after you've eaten a contaminated food. And your symptoms depend on the organism or germ.

Some of the most common bacteria include salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, shigella (a bacteria from feces spread by dirty hands and flies), and E. coli.

"If it's salmonella, you'll likely experience abdominal pain, fever, or diarrhea," says Marcus Zervos, MD, head of the infectious-diseases division at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. "If it's Bacillus cereus or a staph toxin, you might experience more vomiting along with diarrhea."

2. You should feel better after 48 to 72 hours. So be sure to visit the doctor if:

  • You don't notice any improvement after two days

  • If your abdominal pain is severe

  • If you're experiencing diarrhea or vomiting more than five times a day

  • If you have a fever of 101 degrees in combination with other symptoms

  • If you fall under one of the categories listed below


In rare cases, untreated E. coli can cause severe kidney damage. If salĀ­monella is suspected, antibiotics given early may help.

3. Most healthy people can tolerate some bacteria and not end up getting deathly ill. But others may be more susceptible or get sicker. People in the following groups should seek medical attention as soon as possible:


  • The very young and elderly

  • Someone who has HIV

  • Someone undergoing cancer treatment

  • Pregnant women

  • People who have diabetes

  • Those who've recently had surgery

Lambeth Hochwald and Michael Gollust
Last Updated: May 19, 2009

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