There are several complications associated with food poisoning, dehydration being the most common. . However, some less common but serious complications that have been seen and are attributed to specific strains of bacteria include: kidney problems, arthritis, damage to the nervous system8, and anemia3. It is important to note that these complications are rare and are usually present in “at risk” populations or otherwise immunocompromised patients.8
Kidney damage occurs when a person is infected with Escherichia coli, leading to a condition called hemolytic-uremia syndrome (HUS) in which the production of toxic substances destroy red blood cells. HUS is most commonly presented in children, and is a leading cause of acute kidney failure11 since a child’s immune system tends to be underdeveloped .8 HUS has a mortality rate of 3-5% but if left untreated, can become fatal. Some survivors may have permanent disabilities such as renal insufficiency and neurological deficits.3
Arthritis is closely related to food poisoning caused by Shigella or Salmonella; patients tend to experience a condition called reactive arthritis with symptoms of pain in their joints, irritation of the eyes and painful urination. Reactive arthritis may last for months or even years, soon developing into chronic arthritis if left untreated. Furthermore, those infected with Campylobacter may develop chronic arthritis.11 Reactive arthritis is an uncommon complication, occurring in about 2% of food poisoning cases.3
Damage to the nervous system can result from food poisoning caused by Campylobacter jejuni leading to an autoimmune disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome.11 This disease can affect patients of all ages but young adults and the elderly are at particular risk. Patients typically recover fully after a couple of weeks from the syndrome, but some may experience residual weakness or even suffer a relapse.12
Pernicious anemia is related to food poisoning caused by fish tapeworm which prevents the absorption of vitamin B12.This is mostly seen in “high risk” populations but is a rare complication and can be treated with medication that kills the tapeworm.3
Food poisoning can also be deadly but in the United States, it is rare in people who are otherwise healthy.8 However, death may be a potential risk for the elderly13, cancer patients 14, diabetic patients15, and other immunocompromised patients9 if the illness is left untreated.3 Approximately 3,000 cases of food poisoning-associated deaths are reported in the United States each year. Certain strains of bacterial and viral pathogens such as Salmonella, Toxoplasma, Listeria, norovirus, and Campylobacter account for 88% of those deaths. Vibrio infections caused by consumption of raw shellfish can be severe and life-threatening, resulting in death as early as two days after infected.11
Foodborne illness can range from self-limiting symptoms to life-threatening diseases or death. Good hygiene practices and safe food-handling are effective preventative steps to avoid the occurrence of food poisoning.