Who’s at High-Risk Groups?
While all people can be affected by food-borne illness, adults aged 60 and over, pregnant women, children aged 5 and under, and people living with a compromised immune Systems Weakened by Disease or Medical Treatment are at greater risk of serious and even life-threatening complications. Being aware of food safety risks and the steps that you can take to protect yourselves and your family is very important.
If you – or someone you care for – are in one of these high-risk groups, it’s especially important to practice safe food handling. Vulnerable people are not only at increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness but are also more likely to have a lengthier illness, undergo hospitalization, or even die.
Changes during pregnancy alter the mother’s immune system, making pregnant women more susceptible to foodborne illness. Harmful bacteria can also cross the placenta and infect an unborn baby whose immune system is under-developed and not able to fight infection. Foodborne illness during pregnancy is serious and can lead to miscarriage, premature delivery, stillbirth, sickness or the death of a newborn baby.
Children aged 5 and under are at increased risk for food poisoning and related health complications. This is because their immune system is still developing and they cannot fight off infection as well as adults can. Young children also produce less of the stomach acid that kills harmful bacteria. This makes it easier for them to get food poisoning.
Most people who get food poisoning can have a full recovery. But for older adults, serious longer-term problems can be more common. As people get older, it becomes harder for their immune system to protect them from food poisoning. Chronic diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease, can make it even more difficult to fight off infections.
It is very important for older adults, and people who prepare food for older adults, to follow safe food handling and cooking practices.
People with Immune Systems Weakened by Disease or Medical Treatment
The immune system is the body’s natural reaction or response to “foreign invasion.” In healthy people, a properly functioning immune system readily fights off harmful bacteria and other pathogens that cause infection. However, the immune systems of transplant patients and people with certain illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and diabetes, are often weakened from the disease process and/or the side effects of some treatments, making them susceptible to many types of infections — like those that can be brought on by harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness. In addition, diabetes may lead to a slowing of the rate at which food passes through the stomach and intestines, allowing harmful foodborne pathogens an opportunity to multiply.