TThere is no place like home for the holidays, many people agree and millions of people travel long distances to get there. Throughout the journey, however, you may be at greater risk of becoming infected with a foodborne pathogen also along the ride.
And, this pathogen can make your day a real hassle by bringing diarrhea.
Intestinal disease is experienced by almost everyone at least once in life. At the very least, it is an unpleasant and inconvenient experience. At worst, diarrhea is a leading cause of death, particularly in young children.
Here are my tips on how to avoid foodborne pathogens and the misery they cause from my perspective as a microbiologist.
You can run but you can not hide
We people live in a microbial world where microbes inhabit every corner of the Earth. A very small proportion of these microbes have discovered ways to inhabit us in a way that makes us sick. A proportion of disease-causing microbes can do so in our digestive tract. These are foodborne pathogens, germs that have special means to survive in our digestive tract and cause damage.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella enterica (Salmonella) are two infamous bacterial pathogens, collectively responsible for more than 1.5 million episodes of foodborne illnesses per year. These are common causes of food recall and often appear in news coverage.
In fact, in a quick search using the XWord Info search tool, E. coli and Salmonella have appeared in the New York Times crossword puzzles more than 80 times since 1992. Norovirus, a viral pathogen that causes more episodes of foodborne disease than all of the bacterial pathogens combined, has yet to receive such recognition. New York Times crosswords.
Not too famous but dangerous
Another dangerous but less recognized pathogenic agent is Listeria monocytogenes, a bacterium found in all types of environments and the cause of infections with a high mortality rate in susceptible individuals. Infections Listeria monocytogenes go beyond diarrhea. Once inside our intestines, this bacterial pathogen can cross our intestinal barrier and enter our circulation to reach other parts of our body where infections lead to death.
If it hits our central nervous system, it breaks the blood-brain barrier, which protects our brain from the general circulation and causes meningitis. In a pregnant woman, she can invade the placenta and infect the developing fetus. For this particular risk, pregnant women are often advised to avoid ready-to-eat foodstuffs, such as charcuterie and soft cheeses, where Listeria monocytogenes can grow to lethal numbers. Listeria monocytogenes is well adapted to grow under typical food preservation conditions, such as refrigeration temperatures, rendering the pathogen extremely difficult to eliminate.
The best strategy against Listeria monocytogenes Infections, similar to other foodborne infections, are prevention. We have to consume these pathogens to get sick. If we can reduce the amount of pathogens we consume, we will reduce the risk of infections. Individuals can apply to receive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) e-mail alerts to stay informed about ongoing recalls in the United States and to avoid potentially contaminated food products.
Follow basic food safety guidelines when purchasing, preparing, and storing food are effective in minimizing exposure to food-borne pathogens and preventing subsequent illnesses. In addition, the US Department of Agriculture conducts a live chat, also available as the Ask Karen mobile app for iOS and Google Play, between 10:00 am and 6:00 p.m. Leste during the week to respond to any food safety issues.
Sleep well, eat well.
After all the precautions to minimize your exposure to foodborne pathogens, what else can you do? The susceptibility of an individual to infections is also determined by the state of the immune system. A competent immune defense can protect us from disease or reduce disease severity, even if we unconsciously E. coli or Salmonella. White blood cells are a critical group of immune cells that protect us from disease.
As it turns out, subgroups of white blood cells respond strongly to our sleep pattern, as well as to our circadian rhythm, resulting in diurnal cycles of immune responses during nighttime sleep and daytime wakefulness.
In a large population study with 22,726 individuals, when adjusted for age and sex, those with five hours or less of sleep each night were more likely to report respiratory infections or illnesses than those with seven to eight hours of sleep. Although this study has not addressed the susceptibility to foodborne infections, it shows a potential role for the amount of sleep in our immune defenses.
Traveling also raises our risk of infections. In addition to interrupting sleep, traveling for long distances also exposes us to non-common pathogens in our hometowns. Without prior exposure and immunity, these exposures can lead to a greater risk of infections and more serious illnesses. Traveler's diarrhea is a real thing and illness related to the most common journey. The most common cause of traveler's diarrhea is enterotoxigenic E. coli, a cousin next to E. coli O157: H7 who was to blame for the latest outbreak associated with Romaine lettuce.
See also: Avoid getting sick while traveling with these 5 tips
While E. coli O157: H7 produces shiga toxin and causes bloody diarrhea that can lead to uremic, enterotoxigenic hememic syndrome E. coli produces two different types of toxins that result in watery diarrhea. Check out these travel guidelines before traveling to be ready and stay safe. Some important things to know: Eat only foods that are served hot and eat only vegetables that you clean and peel. Also, avoid ice in beverages and do not consume unpasteurized dairy products, including ice creams.
As the holiday season begins, whether we are losing sleep from traveling or trying new and exciting food in a foreign location, we are aware of what is happening in our mouths. Be part of the holiday celebration, not an outbreak of foodborne infection!
This article was originally published in The Conversation by Yvonne Sun. Read the original article here.