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Food poisoning could have lifelong consequences as bugs are linked to host of illnesses | Mail Online

By FIONA MACRAE, 20 March 2012

Victims could develop diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure and high blood pressure. Almost 90,000 cases of food poisoning every year in England and Wales

Stomach bugs may not only make you feel miserable at the time. Salmonella, E coli and other types of food poisoning may have lifelong consequences.

Studies have shown that people caught up in food poisoning outbreaks are more likely to develop a host of lengthy illnesses, including diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, high blood pressure and even heart attacks and strokes.

Some, such as kidney damage thought to be caused by powerful poisons released by the bugs and arthritis triggered by a faulty immune response, occur within weeks. Others, such as high blood pressure, take years to appear.

Experts say the chance that the link is coincidental is remote - and are calling for more to be done to identify victims of food poisoning and monitor their long-term health. Others say that prevention is key - and better hand and food hygiene would cut the number of cases of food poisoning and so the number of people left with lifelong complications.

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However, the true number is likely to be closer to one million, as only a minority of victims will visit their doctor and give a sample that will be logged in the official statistics. Common bugs are E coli, usually caught from eating undercooked beef including mince and burgers; campylobacter, found in raw and undercooked meat, especially chicken; and salmonella, which is found in eggs, meat and milk.

While they can be fatal, most people recover after a few days. But this month’s issue of Scientific American warns that even a short bout of sickness or diarrhoea could have long-term consequences. Studies have linked E coli to kidney failure and diabetes and campylobacter to bowel problems and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a potentially fatal condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves, causing muscle weakness and paralysis.

Salmonella has been blamed for a form of arthritis. Scientific American says: ‘It is a scary idea that food poisoning - which we think of as lasting just a few days - could instead have lifelong after-effects.

‘The incidence of such “sequelae”, in medical parlance, has been thought to be low, but not many researchers studied the problem until recently.

‘New findings by several scientific teams suggest the phenomenon is more common than anyone thought.’ Figures are still relatively scarce.

But one of the most ‘stunning and persuasive’ studies was carried out on Canada after thousands of men and women became ill from drinking water contaminated with manure. A government-funded study found that, eight years later, those who suffered severe diarrhoea due to the dirty water were more than twice as likely to have had a heart attack or stroke than those who were unaffected or only mildly ill.

Their risk of kidney problems was more than three times as high. They also had greater than normal odds of high blood pressure. Even those with milder symptoms had circulatory problems that may have been triggered by the stomach bug.

University of Western Ontario researcher Dr Bill Clark recommends that survivors of severe food poisoning, such as that caused by the E coli O157 strain, undergo regular blood pressure and kidney checks.

Common bugs are E coli, usually caught from eating undercooked beef including mince and burgers Barbara Kowalcyk, of the Centre for Foodborne Illness Research and Prevention in the US, said: ‘We want to establish the true burden of disease because that is what policy makers use to decide what is a public health priority.

‘As long as we focus only on the acute form of foodborne illness and not the long-term health consequences, we’ll under-estimate how significant a problem this is.’ Professor Julian Ketley, of the University of Leicester, said it is important that people are aware of the complications, some of which develop within weeks of the sickness and diarrhoea. He said: ‘If it does come up, they can go and see their physician about it.’

Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of microbiology at Aberdeen University, stressed that prevention is key. He said: ‘Once you get infected with one of these bugs, it is in the luck of the gods whether you get the complications or not. ‘There is nothing you can do to stop the complications but you can stop the infections happening in the first place. ‘The vast majority of people who get food poisoning will not suffer any long-term consequences but the minority will. ‘That’s why it is absolutely vital we get the number as low as we can.’ Professor Pennington advocates hand washing, thorough cooking of food and taking care not to contaminate other foods with uncooked meat and poultry.