Deaths from Food
Poisoning Underestimated

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Deaths from food poisoning caused by bacteria such as Salmonella kill more people than previously thought, Danish scientists said on Friday.
Salmonella in poultry products and eggs and Campylobacter, which is found in chicken, are leading causes of food poisoning.
In most people the infections are not serious and will result in a few days of diarrhoea, stomach cramps or fever but in the very young, the elderly and in people with chronic illnesses like diabetes or HIV they can be deadly.
Kare Molbak and scientists at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen believe deaths from food poisoning could be twice as high as current estimates and can occur up to a year after infection.
"This has never been studied before because people have always thought of Salmonella and Campylobacter as acute infections. But what we observe is that for some patients there is a late excess mortality up to one year after infection," Molbak said in an interview.
The Centers for Disease Control (CRC) in the United States estimate that about 5,200 people there die each year from food poisoning but the Danish researchers believe the true figure could be nearly twice as high.
They said deaths from food poisoning are underestimated because they usually occur within 30 days after infection and there is very little long-term data. Food poisoning deaths can also be wrongly attributed to other illnesses.
"It has been due basically to a lack of data," said Molbak.
In research reported in The British Medical Journal, the Danish scientists studied the medical history of 1,071 people who had died within a year of being infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Yersinia enterocolitica and Shigella.
Yersinia enterocolitica is bacteria found in pork and Shigella is found mainly on imported fruits and vegetables.
Deaths within the first year after infection were 2.2 percent in the people who had had food poisoning, compared to 0.7 percent in a control group of 3,636 people.
Molbak advised people thoroughly to cook meat and to wash fruits and vegetables in clean water to avoid food poisoning, which can be treated with antibiotics.
He added that the overuse of antibiotics can lead to the development of strains of bacteria resistant to the drugs.
In Denmark about 90 deaths a year are due to food poisoning, according to the research. Molbak said the number in Britain, which has a much bigger population, would be about 10 times higher.
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