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Staphylococcal Food Poisoning

What is Staphylococcus?

Staphylococcus aureus  (Staph) a common bacterium found on the skin and in the noses of up to 25% of healthy people and animals. Usually it causes no illness in these healthy people unless it is transmitted to food products.  Staphylococcus aureus is important because it has the ability to make several types of toxins, many of which are responsible for food poisoning.

What is staphylococcal food poisoning?

Staphylococcal food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness. It is caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus . Food workers who carry Staphylococcus and then handle food without washing their hands contaminate  foods by direct contact.   The bacterium can also be found in unpasteurinzed milk and cheese products. Staphylococcus is salt tolerant and can grow in salty foods like ham. As the bacterium  multiplies in food, it produces toxins that can cause food poisoning.   Staphylococcal toxins are resistant to heat and cannot be destroyed by cooking. Foods at highest risk of producing toxins from Staphylococcus aureus are those that are made by hand and require no cooking. Some examples of foods that have caused staphylococcal food poisoning are sliced meat, puddings, pastries and sandwiches.  The foods may not smell bad or look spoiled in order to produce the toxins.

What are the symptoms of staphylococcal food poisoning?

Staphylococcal toxins are fast acting, sometimes causing illness in as little as 30 minutes after eating.contaminated foods., but  symptoms usually develop within one to six hour.s.   Patients typically experience several of the following: nausea, retching, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. The illness  cannot be passed to other people and it typically  lasts for one day, but sometimes it can last up to three days.   In a small minority of patients the illness may be more severe.

How do I know if I have staphylococcal food poisoning?

Toxin-producing Staphylococcus aureus can be identified in stool or vomit using specialized techniques.  The toxins can be detected in food items. Diagnosis of staphylococcal food poisoning in an individual is generally based only on the signs and symptoms of the patient. Testing for the toxin-producing bacteria or the toxin is not usually done in individual patients. Testing is usually reserved for outbreaks involving several persons. If you think you may have food poisoning, contact your physician.

How should a patient with suspected staphylococcal food poisoning be treated?

For most patients, staphylococcal food poisoning will cause a brief illness of one to three days. The best treatments for these patients are rest, plenty of fluids, and medicines to calm their stomachs. Highly susceptible patients, such as the young and the elderly, are more likely to have severe illness requiring intravenous therapy and care in a hospital.

Antibiotics are not useful in treating this illness. The toxin is not affected by antibiotics.

Is a sick patient infectious?

Patients with this illness are not contagious. Toxins are not transmitted from one person to another.

How can staphylococcal food poisoning be prevented?

It is important to prevent the contamination of food with Staphylococcus before the toxin can be produced.

  • Wash hands and under fingernails vigorously with soap and water before handling and preparing food.
  • Do not prepare food if you have a nose or eye infection.
  • Do not prepare or serve food for others if you have wounds or skin infections on your hands or wrists.
  • Keep kitchens and food-serving areas clean and sanitized.
  • If food is to be stored longer than two hours, keep hot foods hot (over 140°F) and cold foods cold (40°F or under).
  • Store cooked food in a wide, shallow container and refrigerate as soon as possible.

Could staphylococcal toxins be used in a bioterrorist attack?

Staphylococcal toxins could be used as a biological agent either by contamination of food/water or by aerosolization and inhalation. Breathing in low doses of staphylococcal enterotoxin B may cause fever, cough, difficulty breathing, headache, and some vomiting and nausea. High doses of the toxin have a much more serious effect.

 
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