Can you get sick from your own intestinal bacteria?

15 July 2012

Question

Much food related illnesses come from contamination by intestinal bacteria due to poor hygien in meal preparation. The question is: Will the culprit self, i.e the person whose bacteria got into the food, be sick as well? In other words, can you get sick from your own intestinal bacteria?

Claes

Answer

Hannah - So, can your own bowel bugs make you sick or can only make other people sick?

According to Professor Liz Sockett at Nottingham University, the mucosal lining of your gut contains immune cells which make antibodies which will attack and neutralise specific bacteria. The immune system will remember seeing the specific bacterium if it re-infects. So for the second exposure, the immune system will probably neutralise and kill the bacterium before it can multiply sufficiently to cause disease. But some food poisoning isn't caused by the bacteria growing in the individual, but by the toxins produced by bacteria in food that has been poorly stored. The toxin damages your intestinal wall lining so quickly that you haven't got the time to mount an immune response to protect yourself. So, immunity cannot protect you and you could show symptoms on repeat exposure to the toxin.

Staphylococcus Aureus for example which can be found on the skin where it causes boils and spots, if that gets into poorly stored food, produces toxins which are heat and acid stable. So, the bug may not survive in the cooking process and the acid environment in your stomach, but the toxin does, and it can poison your intestine, causing diarrhoea and vomiting.

Harry Flint, Professor of Rowett Institute of Food and Health at Aberdeen University explains. Harry - Intestinal damage and diarrhoea caused by the huge quantities of toxin present in the food, and produced by the bacteria multiplying in the food, can affect you even if you have acquired immunity to the bacteria.

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