Foodborne illness and chronic illness

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: December 4th, 2008
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

These days, you risk much more than a tummy ache if you bite into a bad piece of food. As fears of salmonella and E. coli force supermarkets to yank tomatoes and jalapeno peppers off shelves, doctors are just starting to understand some of the long-term health risks associated with food poisoning.

Foodborne disease is extremely common in the United States, with an estimated seventy-six-million cases per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For most people, the experience is limited to an unpleasant bout of diarrhea or stomach pain. But food poisoning can be fatal. Every year as many as nine-thousand Americans die from food-related illness, including salmonella, listeria and E. coli.

Now doctors are focusing on the murky middle between a stomachache and death. Researchers now believe foodborne infections can result in chronic conditions such as kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure and arthritis. These problems may take up to ten years to surface, which makes studying the long-term effects of food-poisoning difficult.

And although annual outbreaks have been documented across the nation, the subject hasn’t received much public attention or funding. So community activists are stepping in. A nonprofit organization has started a national registry listing people who have had foodborne diseases and are willing to participate in research studies.

Representatives from the group Safe Tables Our Priority, or STOP, hope the information will help researchers understand how frequently chronic problems occur and what role factors such as genetics play.