The expression, “there must be something in the water,” couldn’t be more appropriate in describing what happens when harmful bacteria taints the food or water we consume. Whether from a simple stomach bug or a serious case of salmonella, millions around the world suffer from illnesses, often life-threatening, that are caused by something they ate or drank.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that roughly 48 million people — without accounting for the millions of unreported cases — in the United States alone are infected each year with foodborne illnesses. Millions more suffer in countries all over the world, often times facing hospitalization, permanent symptoms, and even death.
In Haiti, residents are currently suffering from the worst cholera outbreak in history. Originating from contamination of the country’s main water source, the deadly disease has so far infected more than 600,000 people and has killed more than 8,000.
In 2006, 152 people who attended a local village Buddhist festival in Thailand were infected with botulism after eating locally-made bamboo shoots at the festival. One hundred of the people infected were hospitalized and 40 required respirators to breathe.
Thirty-three years ago in Spain, 25,000 people fell severely ill, some permanently disabled, and 1,000 died in an outbreak caused by the consumption of poisoned cooking oil. Doctors called the disease “atypical pneumonia,” which presented flu-like symptoms, including fever, vomiting, nausea, and breathing difficulties as well as fluid buildup in the lungs, skin rashes, and muscle pain.
An E. coli outbreak in Germany in 2011 was the country’s biggest foodborne bacterial outbreak for six centuries. The disease caused more than 3,100 cases of diarrhea, more than 850 cases of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) — a condition that can lead to kidney failure — and 53 deaths. These are just a few examples of how foodborne diseases can originate from a single food or drink source and spread to thousands, even millions, of people in a short time, leaving a detrimental impact on a society.
Cholera, botulism, and E. coli, along with many others, are some of the most commonly occurring foodborne illnesses, typically originating from contaminated water, raw foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with animal waste or unclean water, raw sprouts, unpasteurized fruit juices and cider, or foods that have come into contact with someone who is sick.
Life-threatening diseases like these may not be easy to avoid in most cases, but knowing how and where they can occur could possibly save one or thousands of lives. Read on for more foodborne illnesses that have occurred around the world.
Haley WIllard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.