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When it's food poisoning, signs hit within hours of eating

Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea? No, I'm not talking about an advertisement for medication for gastrointestinal disorders. I'm talking about the symptoms of food poisoning.

Food poisoning is the result of eating food contaminated by bacteria. Two common causes are Staphylococcus and E. coli. Staph is usually found in food that has been handled and is served or stored at room temperature or refrigerator temperature. E. coli is the most common cause of traveler's diarrhea and can be traced to contaminated water or unsanitary food.

Food poisoning symptoms generally start within two to six hours after eating. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and chills, headache, nausea and vomiting, and weakness.

If you experience these symptoms within a few hours of eating, it's a good idea to contact anyone who ate with you. If they ate the same food and are experiencing the same symptoms, chances are the culprit is food poisoning. If you consumed the food at a restaurant or other public place, you should notify the manager.

To avoid traveler's diarrhea, use only safe food and water sources when traveling.

Fortunately, food poisoning is generally self-limiting over about two days and can be treated with rest and fluids to prevent dehydration. If you experience the symptoms of food poisoning, don't eat solid foods until the diarrhea has ended. You should take clear liquids while avoiding milk and caffeine at the onset.

Children and adults might benefit from electrolyte solutions, and children might be more susceptible to serious problems related to dehydration. For staph and E. coli food poisoning, antibiotics or anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal drugs are generally not recommended. The nausea and diarrhea are the body's way of getting rid of the toxins.

There are other, more serious causes of food poisoning. Some mushrooms and shellfish have specific toxins, sometimes deadly effects. If symptoms of poisoning occur after eating mushrooms or shellfish, seek immediate medical attention.

Another type of food poisoning that can be quite severe and lead to death is botulism. It can come from improper home canning or eating food from damaged commercial cans.

Older adults, people with chronic medical conditions and the very young are at greater risk for complications from food poisoning and should seek medical attention if the symptoms are not quickly relieved or if dehydration is noticed. Most people recover fully.