What are the risks of Ptomaine poisoning?

Ptomaine poisoning is an outdated term for food poisoning. It stems from the concept that ptomains, small broken down proteins in food, were to blame for people getting sick from food. We now know that ptomaine poisoning is actually food poisoning that has been infected with various types of bacteria. Food left out, for example chicken salad, can easily grow bacteria.

There are several main bacteria indicated in ptomaine poisoning, when the term is used interchangeably with food poisoning. Examples of bacteria and germs responsible for food poisoning are E. coli, salmonella, and listeria. Symptoms, treatment, and risk depend on the ptomaine poisoning agent ingested.

E. Coli is probably the most dangerous bacteria, usually caused by eating undercooked ground beef. Even a little pink on a burger can mean possible exposure to E. Coli. E. coli tends to cause watery diarrhea without fever. In about five percent of cases, significant kidney failure can develop. The risk is higher in children under five years of age. When this kidney failure develops, it can cause death. Those who recover may require a kidney transplant or regular dialysis while waiting for a transplant. This very serious, though rare, complication is reason enough to exercise caution when cooking, preparing, or serving ground beef.

Ptomaine poisoning caused by salmonella bacteria can make you very sick. It usually develops one day to three days after consuming products such as undercooked eggs, raw eggs, or undercooked chicken. Eating cooked poultry that is not properly refrigerated can also lead to ingestion of salmonella. Salmonella usually feels like a very bad stomach flu, with diarrhea and/or vomiting, fever, and chills. The condition often resolves in three to five days. Complications that arise may be dehydration or high fever, particularly in very young or elderly patients. Some children and older adults may require hospitalization and IV fluids to restore health.

Ptomaine poisoning can also be caused by the bacteria listeria, which produces symptoms similar to those infected with salmonella. However, complications for pregnant women with listeria include miscarriage of unborn children. Young children can also be very susceptible to developing brain infections or meningitis. Listeria can exist in meat purchased from a deli, such as salami or turkey. It is also sometimes found in fruits or vegetables. Lastly, soft cheeses can harbor listeria and should be avoided by children and pregnant women.

Ptomaine poisoning, as a term, does not adequately address the complications of various foodborne illnesses. Some infections, such as salmonella, can cause serious illness but rarely cause complications. Other infectious agents once called ptomaine poisoning can be significantly worse and life-threatening. The medical community seems to want to rule out ptomaine poisoning and replace it with multi-infectious agent labels, which will help clinicians address specific issues related to the type of bacteria indicated in food poisoning.

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