• Bangalore
  • 30 August 2014
  • Features
  • By Janani Ravi

Foodborne parasites: The silent killers

Globally foodborne parasites affect the health of millions of people annually, causing debilitating and potentially deadly conditions and sometimes living within humans for years


Foodborne parasites are silent killers

Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment and protection from other living organisms known as hosts. They may be transmitted from animals to humans, from humans to humans, or from humans to animals. Host-to-host consumption of contaminated food and water can also be a source of transmission. These organisms live and reproduce within the tissues and organs of infected human and animal hosts,and are often excreted in feces. They range in size from tiny,single-celled,microscopic organisms (protozoa) to larger,multi-cellular worms (helminths) that can be seen with the naked eye. The size ranges from 1 to 2 μm (micrometers) to 2 meter long. Their lifecycle is also completely different. While some parasites use a permanent host, others go through a series of developmental phases using different animal or human hosts.

Food is an excellent vehicle by which many pathogens (bacteria,viruses/prions and parasites) can reach an appropriate colonisation site in a new host. The epidemiology of foodborne disease keeps changing day-by-day. New pathogens have emerged, and some have spread worldwide. Many, in-cluding Salmonella, Escherichia coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, and Yersinia enterocolitica, have reservoirs in healthy food from which they spread to an increasing variety of foods. Although food production practices change, the well-recognised foodborne pathogens, seem to evolve and exploit novel opportunities. These pathogens cause sporadic illness and chronic complications, as well as large and challenging outbreaks over many states and nations.

Contamination of foods or beverages with these parasites can result in symptoms ranging from mild stomach upset, headache, muscle aches,and fever to abdominal cramps,vomiting, and diarrhea. Severe cases can result in dangerous dehydration, nerve damage, paralysis, kidney failure,and death. Symptoms may develop within hours or days after eating contaminated food, and they are not always easy to distinguish from influenza or other illnesses.Foodborne parasites are of global concern.

A top 10 list identifying the foodborne parasites of greatest global concern was released on July 1, 2014.by Food and Agriculture Organisation(FAO) of the United Nations at Rome. The rankings contained in FAO-WHO report, Multi-criteria-based ranking or risk management of foodborne parasites, are based on the parasites' burden on human health and other factors, and includes information on where they can be found.The list and supporting report were developed following a request by the global food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission for FAO and WHO to review the current status of knowledge on parasites in food and their public health and trade impacts.Foodborne diseases are an important public health problem in the United States.

The Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet)conducts surveillance in 10 US sites for all laboratory-confirmed infections caused by selected pathogens transmitted commonly through food to quantify them and monitor their incidence. This report summarises preliminary 2013 data and describes trends since 2006. In 2013, a total of 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalisations and 80 deaths were reported. For most infections, incidence was well above national Healthy People 2020 incidence targets and highest among children aged below 5 years.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), United States, a government public health agency estimates that each year, roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) gets sick, 1,28,000 are hospitalised, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Foodborne diseases are extremely costly. Health experts estimate that the yearly cost of all foodborne diseases in the USA alone, is about $5-6 billion in direct medical expenses and lost productivity.


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