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AMA, government to educate doctors about foodborne illness

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The American Medical Association today announced an education campaign to help doctors recognize and treat foodborne illness.

Too often doctors mistake foodborne illness for simple stomach flu, don't treat it properly and don't alert local health authorities, said Dr. Edward Hill, assistant professor of family medicine at the North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, Mississippi, and a spokesman for the AMA.

"We want to raise every physician's awareness of the fact that these foodborne illnesses -- particularly among the elderly and the very young -- can be extremely dangerous," Hill said.

RESOURCES
Read the new guidelines for doctors
 
SYMPTOMS

See a doctor if you have the following symptoms:

  • high temperature
  • stiff neck
  • rigid stomach
  • dry mouth
  • bloody diarrhea
  • illness longer than three days

  •  

    More than 5,000 people die each year because of foodborne illnesses, and more than 300,000 are hospitalized.

    Hill said doctors sometimes dismiss vomiting and diarrhea in a young child, when they could actually be signs of E coli 0157:h7, a potentially deadly foodborne bacteria.

    "They might miss the severity of the illness, and that's what worries me," he said. "They might consider it a run-of-the-mill illness when it could be a life-threatening illness."

    Doctors also need to learn more about emerging foodborne illnesses, according to the AMA.

    "I graduated from medical school in 1964 and we had never heard of these different kinds of E coli," said Hill.

    The AMA, in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is issuing a primer intended to assist doctors in recognizing, diagnosing, and treating foodborne illness.

    The information is available on the Internet at http://www.ama-assn.org/foodborne. The AMA said there would be 15,000 kits available free to physicians.

    In the primer, doctors will be told to ask more questions about what food the patients have recently eaten, Dr. Hill explained. He added that patients should also learn when to treat a foodborne illness at home and when to go to the doctor.

    Hill said patients with the following signs should see a doctor: high temperature, stiff neck, rigid stomach, dry mouth and bloody diarrhea. In addition, he recommended seeing a doctor if the illness goes on for more than three days.

    He said patients sometimes are given antibiotics, intravenous hydration, or anti-nausea medications for food poisoning.

    Food safety experts applauded the AMA's move to educate doctors.

    "Physician-education material like this is a long time coming," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

    "We've had examples where parents with very sick kids were sent home from doctors' offices and hospitals repeatedly because they said the kids weren't sick enough," she explained. "I remember one case in particular -- the doctor said the child didn't have enough blood in the stool, when it was clearly a sign of E coli 0157:h7."

    She added that it's important for patients and doctors to report any foodborne illness to local health authorities because technology now allows scientists to examine various cases to see if they come from a common source.



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    RELATED SITES:
    U.S. Food and Drug Administration
    CDC - E. coli
    North Mississippi Medical Center
    Center for Science in the Public Interest
    AMA - Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses: A
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