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Food and Waterborne Illness

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Prevention and Treatment


There are several steps that can be taken to prevent food and waterborne illnesses on an individual level. Some of these include:

  • Using care to contain sources of contamination and cross-contamination, such as raw meat, poultry or seafood, in the home during food preparation
  • Washing hands thoroughly with soap and water before preparing food or eating, after using the toilet, caring for people with diarrhea or touching or petting animals (when water is not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol are an acceptable alternative)
  • Cooking meats to established safe temperatures
  • Storing foods at safe temperatures and for safe storage times
  • Not drinking untreated water or unpasteurized milk or juices
  • Being aware of food and beverage hazards while traveling
  • Being especially careful when a person is immunocompromised, has an underlying health condition, or is pregnant

For additional details, see the Food and Drug Administration web site: Keep Food Safe, Check Your Steps.

On public health and governmental levels, some important prevention steps include:

  • Maintaining safe drinking, agricultural, and recreational water supplies
  • Monitoring the production of food and ensuring good health practices are followed
  • Ensuring accurate and timely surveillance, response and support for local as well as multi-state outbreaks of foodborne illness

There are vaccines available to prevent some of the causes of foodborne and waterborne illnesses. Some examples include rotavirus infection and hepatitis A infection. Rotavirus and hepatitis A vaccines may be given routinely to children, and hepatitis A vaccination may be recommended for some adults who are traveling internationally.


Most bacterial and viral water and foodborne illnesses are self-limited and do not require anything but supportive care that includes fluid replacement and rest. Over the counter diarrhea medications are often not recommended as they can prolong the duration of symptoms. Careful hygiene is important so that the contamination is contained.

In cases involving severe symptoms and significant dehydration, intravenous fluids and hospitalization may be required. With some cases, there is a risk that the infection may spread to the blood and other organs of the body. If the illness is caused by bacteria, treatment with antibiotics may be necessary. Infants, young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or organ transplant recipients, are most at risk of serious disease.

Parasitic infections may require drug treatment.

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