Enteric Diseases (Foodborne and Animal Contact)

Every year, millions of cases of foodborne illness and thousands of deaths occur in the United States. Much of this could be prevented through prevention measures.

The science and prevention tools for these efforts include:

  • Monitoring human illness caused by bacteria, and measuring the rate at which these illnesses happen,
  • Estimating the number of foodborne illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,
  • Linking illness to how the illness was spread and to what specific foods and settings,
  • Focus prevention effort to meet food safety goals, and
  • Providing data and analyses that inform food safety action and policy.

What is a Foodborne Disease?

A foodborne illness or disease is a gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) illness caused by eating impure food.

Foodborne diseases most often fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Foodborne Intoxications:
    • Food is tainted with a bacteria which makes toxins.
    • These toxins cause illness when eaten, or after, when in the stomach and/or intestines.
    • Impure fish, shellfish, and plants that make toxins can cause intoxications as well.
    • Examples include E.coli O157:H7 and Shigella.
  • Foodborne infection:
    • The virus or parasite is eaten and causes illness or infection.
    • Examples include Norovirus and Giardia.
  • Foodborne poisoning:
    • Food is tainted with a chemical such as a heavy metal or organic compound.
    • Examples include Mercury and pesticides.

Did you know around 1 in 6 Americans get food poisoning every year?

What are the Symptoms and Causes for Enteric Infections?

Most often include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea, and
  • Depends on the specific bacteria, virus, toxin, or poison that caused the illness.

The amount of time in between eating the food and getting sick also depends on the specific bacteria, virus, toxin or poison and can be from a couple hours (Staphylococcus aureus toxin) to weeks (hepatitis A virus).

Determining the cause of an illness

  • Depends on lab tests to find the causative agent (bacteria, virus, parasite etc.) in specimens from of a person with the infection (e.g. stool samples).
  • These tests are sometimes not done unless the lab is ordered to look for the causative agent.
  • Once it has been identified, if it is a bacteria, more tests can detect the specific strain or type of bacteria it is and which antibiotics can be used to treat it.

How do enteric organisms get into the body?

Enteric organism typically enters the body through the mouth. A person most often gets the organism through:

  • Impure food and/or water,
  • Contact with animals or their environments, and
  • Contact with the feces of a person or animal with the organism.

We carry out our work through:

  • Data collection and review,
  • Investigation, and
  • Research to:
    • Identify causes,
    • Sources, and
    • Prevention measures at an infection.

Our key values are:

  • Accurate science
  • Rapid response to emergencies
  • Service to government agencies and state health departments
  • Cooperative work

How can Enteric Infections be treated?

  • Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics when necessary.
  • Salmonella infections most often end in 5-7 days and often do not require treatment, unless the patient becomes very dehydrated or the infection spreads from the intestines.
  • People with severe diarrhea may need to see a healthcare provider to get IV fluids to replace what they have lost. 
  • Some bacteria have grown to become resistant to certain antibiotics.
  • Viral infections are treated with supportive care, usually through increasing fluid intake, such as electrolytes, to combat dehydration. 

Foodborne Illness Surveillance (Data Collection and Review)

Foodborne illnesses are one of the most common reported infectious diseases.

They are watched by using multiple data collection systems including:

  • Reportable disease data collection
  • Data collection on groups of signs and symptoms, and
  • Public reporting.

As well as looking into occasional cases of foodborne illness, the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control examines multiple foodborne outbreaks (when 2 or more people have a related illness from eating a common food) each year. These are normally caused by Salmonella or Norovirus and are often related to how food was prepared (cooked) or stored.

E. coli and Food Safety