The frightening long-term effects of food poisoning

If you think that a bout of food poisoning is just a bit of vomiting and diarrhoea, then you may be in for a bit of a shock.

Studies are now showing that even a mild case of food poisoning can lead to a whole range of other nasty, and lasting illnesses months, years or even decades after the initial infection has passed.

It has been difficult for researchers to find these links for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, many of us don’t seek medical treatment for food poisoning and we often don’t associate these subsequent illnesses with the poisoning.

Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis typically involves inflammation of one joint or several joints. The most common joints affected are the knees and ankles. It causes local swelling and pain with walking or exercise. Sufferers often also develop eye and urinary tract inflammation.

Reactive arthritis has been observed after infections from Salmonella, Campylobacter or Shigella, and it’s quite a common complication; In a Washington State University study, 29% or patients developed arthritis after a Salmonella infection.

In 2000, the town water supply in Walkerton, Canada, was infected with E. coli and Campylobacter by runoff from a nearby farm. The contamination affected more than 2,300 people and killed seven. An ongoing study into the effects of the poisoning showed that nearly 1 in 5 of those infected with E. coli reported subsequent arthritis symptoms.

Hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS)

HUS is a condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. The damaged cells clog the filtering system of the kidneys, which can lead to life-threatening kidney failure.

HUS can be caused by E. coli, Campylobacter or Shigella infection. It mainly affects children and kills between 5 and 10% of sufferers. 30% of sufferers will have ongoing kidney damage.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

IBD is a common name for diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The symptoms include abdominal pain and diarrhoea, often bloody.

Dr Henrik Nielsen of Aalborg Hospital in Denmark published research in 2009 that showed that a Salmonella or Campylobacter infection tripled the risk of IBD for at least 15 years.

Urinary Tract Problems

People don’t often associate urinary tract problems with food poisoning, but a number of studies have shown a clear link. What’s more, a lot of these UTIs are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and so do not respond quickly to treatment.

High blood pressure

The study following the Walkerton outbreak also showed that food poisoning victims also had a 33% higher than normal risk of increased blood pressure and a 210% higher risk of heart attack or stroke.


E. coli has been linked to pancreatitis, which in turn can increase the likelihood of developing diabetes.

Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS)

GBS is an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack nerves. The symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome vary from mild to life threatening, depending on which nerves are damaged and to what extent. The most commonly identified trigger is gastrointestinal infection with Campylobacter. As many as 1 in 1,000 Campylobacter sufferers will develop GBS.

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