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Diseases Caused by Contaminated Food

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
If you thought that diarrhea, fever, and vomiting were your major worries stemming from eating contaminated food, you haven't heard the half of it. This lesson tells you about the many afflictions caused by contaminated food.

Foodborne Illnesses

Have you ever eaten something that got you really sick? Maybe it was some undercooked meat or poorly washed vegetables. Perhaps it was some really old leftovers. Regardless of which one of those it was, you likely vomited, had diarrhea, or a fever, or even all three. This happened to you because the food you ate was contaminated by one of various disease-causing microorganisms.

This lesson is going to go over a portion of the ones that can cause all sorts problems.

Diseases Caused by Bacteria

Jack loves chicken and eggs. But one day, after eating some undercooked chicken and raw eggs he starts having a fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Poor Jack, he probably just got himself some salmonellosis, an infection caused by a bacterium of the genus Salmonella. Salmonella is a very common foodborne pathogen (disease-causing agent). Other very common pathogenic bacteria found in or on improperly cooked or washed foods that cause similar signs and symptoms include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Campylobacter.

Rhonda went abroad one day, only to develop severe watery diarrhea, extreme dehydration, and a lot of abdominal pain. She probably had cholera, a disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which is spread by eating contaminated food or drinking water.

An image of Vibrio cholerae
Cholera

And sadly, Linda consumed some unpasteurized milk. Like most people, she didn't notice anything significant. That seems better than what happened to Jack and Rhonda, right? But Linda was pregnant and she suffered a miscarriage because of listeriosis, an illness that's caused by a bacterium called Listeria monocytogenes. This bug can spread from the woman to the unborn baby during pregnancy and cause a miscarriage or stillbirth.

This is bad, of course, but perhaps not a bad as what happened to Mike. Mike went to another country and ate some home-canned goods. What he didn't know is that improperly canned goods are a perfect breeding ground for a bacterium known as Clostridium botulinum, one that causes a condition called botulism. Botulism causes paralysis, specifically of the muscles that control breathing. Mike died from respiratory failure as a result.

Diseases Caused by Viruses, Parasites, & Prions

While food poisoning is commonly caused by bacteria, viruses and other pathogens like parasites are also implicated in this. For instance, Nancy found out from her doctor after a bad trip to a restaurant that her food poisoning could have been caused by the norovirus. Her husband came back very ill from another restaurant after a trip to Boston, where he ate a lot of raw and undercooked seafood and raw produce, all of which can spread the hepatitis A virus, which causes hepatitis, the inflammation of the liver.

But that, in some respects, may not be as bad as Zoya, who loves to eat undercooked pork. See, some forms of contaminated food may lead to taeniasis, infection with a parasitic tapeworm. This is especially caused by a tapeworm called Taenia solium, commonly found in undercooked pork. Infection with this tapeworm may lead to cysticercosis, an infection that can lead to severe damage of the nervous system or the eyes. Zoya lost part of her vision, forever, in one of her eyes as a result.

An image of a beef tapeworm, a kind of tapeworm you can get from eating undercooked beef
Tapeworm

If that wasn't bad enough, even non-living things like misfolded proteins called prions can cause disease by food contaminated with it. Carol should take note as she has a peculiar taste for what some people consider a delicacy: cow brain. Consuming prion contaminated cow brain or food containing the cow brain can lead to Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of mad cow disease.

Food does not have to be contaminated with living organisms to cause disease. Heavy metals like mercury and pollutants from pesticides and herbicides may damage our immune system, nervous system, and may even cause cancer.

Lesson Summary

So you thought some diarrhea was all you had to fear from eating undercooked food? Now you know: many of the diseases we covered, while not explicitly mentioned, can kill you. This is especially true if you're very young, already sick, or very old.

The various diseases caused by contaminated food include:

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