Has climate change increased your odds of getting a nasty bout of food poisoning?
“We’re seeing two foodborne pathogens—Vibrio and Cryptosporidium—that are probably influenced by global warming,” says Glenn Morris, director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida.
Vibrio, which infects shellfish in coastal waters, tends to multiply in the summer. Hence the advice to eat oysters and other shellfish only in months whose names contain the letter “r.” That excludes May through August.
“Vibrio is exquisitely temperature sensitive,” says Morris. “We’re seeing steady increases in the number of cases. And we’re finding Vibrio farther up both the west and east coasts of the United States and even in Alaska.”
While Vibrio doesn’t infect as many people as most other pathogens, one in four people with certain kinds of severe Vibrio infections die, sometimes only a day or two after they get sick.
“Cryptosporidium is also a water organism,” says Morris. Heavier rainfall from a warmer climate is expected to flush greater numbers of the parasites out of soil and into waterways and drinking water.
“We’re just starting to come to grips with that,” says Morris.
Cryptosporidium infections cause watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. The illness usually lasts a week or two in healthy people but can be serious or even fatal in people with weakened immune systems.
Be prepared the next time foodborne illness strikes
In most cases of food poisoning, your body will heal itself as long as you drink plenty of fluids until the GI problems clear up.
Sometimes, though, you’re going to need medical help, especially if you’re older, have a weakened immune system, or have severe or long-lasting symptoms. Infants and pregnant women are also more likely to have a serious bout.
Photo: © Jag_cz/fotolia.com
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