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Any unexplained abdominal pain accompanied by persistent vomiting or diarrhea, whether or not a food source is suspected, should be reported to the doctor. A child having difficulty swallowing, speaking, holding the head up, or maintaining an upright posture should receive emergency medical attention. Signs of confusion, lethargy, headache, stiff neck, or seizures also require immediate medical attention.
One important part of diagnosing food poisoning is the need for doctors and community health professionals
Laboratory tests are used to make a definitive diagnosis, but treatment of symptoms may be started immediately without waiting for test results, which may take up to two days. Diagnostic tests focus on identifying the organism causing the illness. This process may involve performing a culture on contaminated material from the suspect food, a stool sample, or swabs of the nose or throat of the affected individual if inhaled spores are a possibility. Culture results are available from the microbiology laboratory as soon as bacteria grow in a special plate incubated at temperatures at or above body temperature. The growth of specific bacteria confirms the diagnosis. The microbiology laboratory may use samples of the bacteria grown to perform other special techniques to help identify the causative organism.
In infant botulism, the infant's stool may be cultured to isolate the organism; this test may be performed by the state health department or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Early diagnosis of botulism is critical so that treatment can begin in time to avoid neurological involvement. Although the definitive diagnosis comes from laboratory tests, it can usually be diagnosed by recognizing the distinctive neurological symptoms typical of contamination with C. botulinum.
While waiting for diagnostic test results, the doctor performs a physical examination and may ask about recently consumed food, possible open sores, recent activities and behavior, and other information that may help to rule out other disease possibilities. Imaging studies or additional diagnostic tests may be done to rule out other diseases or conditions with similar symptoms.
Many cases of food poisoning go undiagnosed, since a definite diagnosis is not necessary to effectively treat the symptoms. Because it takes time for symptoms to develop, the most recent food one has eaten may not be the cause of the symptoms.
Author Info: L. Lee Culvert, Suzanne M. Lutwick MPH, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006
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