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 Emergency & First Aid

April 2012
When Food Fuels An Emergency
Dr Bhaanu C Shekhar
It is that time of the year when the heat gets to you.Your sense of discipline on things that are clean and hygienic may take a backseat when it comes to cool scoops of ice creams, refreshing glasses of shakes and juices, soothing morsels of street food or plain bottles of cold water.

Food poisoning or a topsy-turvy tummy may just be the price you will pay. Ignorance is bliss. Well, NOT ALWAYS! Food poisoning is very common in India for many reasons, the most obvious being a lethargic attitude towards the standard of hygiene

Causes And Outbreaks Of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning results from contaminated food or water and affects all people irrespective of what their social or economic strata. Unhygienic cooking conditions, poor or improper hand washing and general ignorance among the masses offer bacteria and viruses very conducive breeding grounds. Food poisoning can also result from toxins present in mushrooms, under-cooked food and from food kept out in the open for long periods of time.

One contaminated source is usually the source of misery or infection for many people. Observe some recent headlines as follows, for example: 07/09/11: Lizard lands in mid-day
meal, sends 44 children to hospital, 06/12/11: Gujarat: Over 300 people affected with food poisoning , 21/02/12: 70 hospitalised with food poisoning in Chhattisgarh.

5 Symptoms of Food Poisoning that SHOULD NOT be Ignored

Food poisoning is mild in most cases, with people presenting at the hospital or emergency with diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting. In children, it can become a serious condition due to dehydration. The symptoms usually start appearing within 36-48 hours of consumption of the contaminated food. Symptoms like blood in stools and fever can herald a serious infection, and further complications like sepsis and even death, unless treated early.
Signs of severe dehydration / food poisoning include:
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Cramps
  • Fever
  • Blood in stools
Be vigilant! Spare yourself the un-necessary visit to the hospital
  1. Ensure that you eat at a place which is clean.
  2. Ask your waiter about the source of water that he offers you. If uncertain, ask for bottled mineral water. Spending a few extra bucks for a bottle of mineral water is far cheaper than paying for the doctor’s consultation and medicines!
  3. Wash your hands before eating. With children too, ensure that they wash their hands both before and after eating.
  4. Hot, freshly cooked food is always better than cold, preserved one.
  5. Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  6. If you have a domestic help, or a cook, make sure they have washed their hands before cooking or serving.
  7. The age old advice of boiling water used for drinking still holds true!
  8. If you notice symptoms like vomiting or diarrhoea, replenish yourself with plenty of fluids.
  9. In case of fever or blood in stools or diarrhoea, visit a hospital at the earliest. You may require more fluids and antibiotics.
  10. WHO recommended Electral formula is available at all pharmacies. Use it to replenish fluid loss from diarrhoea and vomiting. It is very easy to consume, and
    replenishes important elements in the body.
  11. When you travel, carry Electral with you and take plenty of fluids.
  12. Throw away foods kept in the open for long periods of time or food which has acquired a foul smell.
So, next time when you want to tickle your taste buds, remember the good word: vigilance.

Why is your doctor your best friend?
Emergency care for food poisoning usually includes intravenous (IV) administration of fluids and also the administration of antibiotics. Lab tests are not usually needed but
your doctor may order a few tests to check the need for replenishing important salts (sodium and potassium) in your body. Even if over the counter medicines and
grandma’s magical concoctions seem effective, you must visit the nearest hospital for a proper medical evaluation, because severe fluid loss from the body demands it.
Dr Bhaanu C Shekhar is Registrar, Dept of Emergency Medicine, Apollo Health City,

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