Foodborne Viruses- Food Poisoning by Viruses

Foodborne viruses are microscopic agents that can cause infections and diseases in humans through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot grow or multiply in food, but they can survive for long periods of time under various environmental conditions. Foodborne viruses can cause a range of symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, jaundice, and liver damage. Some foodborne viruses can also have serious long-term consequences, such as chronic hepatitis, neurological disorders, and cancer.

The main source of foodborne viruses is the fecal-oral route, which means that the viruses are shed in the feces or other body fluids of infected humans or animals and then transferred to food or water through direct or indirect contact. For example, foodborne viruses can contaminate food through:

  • Infected food handlers who do not practice good hygiene and sanitation during food preparation and handling.
  • Raw or undercooked animal products (such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy) that harbor zoonotic viruses (viruses that can infect both animals and humans).
  • Fresh produce (such as fruits, vegetables, and herbs) that are grown on land fertilized with animal waste or irrigated with contaminated water.
  • Shellfish (such as oysters, mussels, and clams) that are harvested from waters polluted by human sewage or animal runoff.
  • Drinking water or ice that is not adequately treated or filtered to remove viral particles.

Other sources of foodborne viruses include:

  • Droplets from an infected person who coughs or sneezes near food or utensils.
  • Sexual intercourse with an infected person who has a sexually transmitted viral infection (such as hepatitis B or C).
  • Contaminated blood or blood products that are transfused or injected into a person.
  • Vectors (such as mosquitoes and ticks) that carry arthropod-borne viruses (viruses that are transmitted by insects).

The most common foodborne viruses include human noroviruses, hepatitis A virus, rotavirus, hepatitis E virus, and astrovirus. Other foodborne viruses include sapovirus, adenovirus, enterovirus, coronavirus, parvovirus, calicivirus, reovirus, and picornavirus. These viruses vary in their characteristics, transmission routes, host range, incubation period, symptoms, severity, treatment, and prevention.

To reduce the risk of foodborne viral infections, it is important to follow the four basic steps of food safety: clean, separate, cook, and chill. Additionally, it is advisable to:

  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after handling food and after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Avoid preparing food for others if you are sick with diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Cook animal products to the recommended internal temperatures to kill any potential viruses.
  • Rinse fresh produce under running water and peel or discard outer layers if possible.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish or seafood from unknown sources.
  • Drink only treated or boiled water and avoid ice made from untreated water.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B if you are traveling to areas where these infections are endemic or if you belong to a high-risk group.
  • Use condoms during sexual intercourse to prevent sexually transmitted viral infections.

Foodborne viruses are a major public health concern worldwide and can cause significant morbidity and mortality. By understanding their sources of contamination and taking preventive measures, we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from these harmful pathogens.