How one case of food poisoning can do lasting damage to your gut

Unrecognizable Black Guy Touching Aching Abdomen Having Painful Stomachache Standing Over Gray Studio Background. African Man Suffering From Stomach Inflammation. Gastritis And Abdomen Pain. Cropped food poisoning
Food poisoning can alter the gut and cause long-term illnesses. (Getty Images)

A man who suffered from food poisoning after eating a chicken sheesh kebab and salad last year says he still has an intestinal infection over 16 months later.

John Inglesby, 76, had severe diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain and sweats after eating a kebab from a shop that gave more than 50 customers food poisoning.

A later stool sample confirmed that he had contracted shigella bacteria, which is a contagious intestinal infection. Someone may contract shigella if they eat food prepared by someone who has it and didn't wash their hands, for example.

The outbreak happened in February 2023 when customers ate contaminated food from the takeaway and saw 11 people hospitalised.

Inglesby was prescribed a dose of antibiotics to help his recovery, but a year on he says he's still suffering from ongoing gastric complications.

"I’m not one to get stomach aches, so when I started to feel unwell, I knew something wasn’t right," Inglesby explains. "It worsened very quickly and before long I was in and out of the bathroom every 10 minutes.

John Inglesby contracted Shingella after eating a kebab (stock image used). (SWNS/Getty Images)
John Inglesby contracted Shingella after eating a kebab (stock image used). (SWNS/Getty Images)

"It got so bad that I had to see the doctor, and at that point I was told I had an infection. To this day, I’m still not right. It’s truly awful how many people have been affected and something needs to be done to stop it happening again."

Studies have found that Shigella causes 700,000 deaths and 80 million infections worldwide each year, and that long-term effects can include impaired cognitive and physical development, poor gastrointestinal health, and even arthritis and kidney damage.

Late last year the government reported that there had been a 53% rise in antibiotic-resistant Shigella cases, and there were 97 of these cases in total in 2023 compared to 4 cases in 2022.

"Four strains of Shigella can cause food poisoning, of which the most common and mild is Shigella sonnei," Dr Sarah Brewer, nutritional consultant at leading vitamin gummies brand Nutrigums, tells Yahoo UK.

"The least common is Shigella dysenteriae which causes the worst symptoms where sufferers can expect a fever alongside blood and slime in the stool – known as dysentery. Most cases are acquired during travel abroad. Occasionally, outbreaks occur due to contaminated foodstuffs such as salad leaves. Symptoms are unpleasant and can last for a week or more. In severe cases, antibiotics may be prescribed although resistant strains are increasing. It’s important to stay hydrated, and to avoid passing on the infection to others."

Shigella is not the most common form of food poisoning. Other common forms include campylobacter, salmonella, E- coli, norovirus, and listeria.

One study from 2017 found that even repeated mild food poisonings can trigger chronic diseases such as inflammation and even colitis.

"Some cases [of food poisoning] are infective and caused by viruses or bacteria," Dr Brewer says. "Others are non-infective and can be linked with chemical pollutants or pre-formed toxins such as those produced by Staphylococcal bacteria, toxic plankton and some types of mushrooms. Food poisoning after eating shellfish is especially common as all four culprits, viruses, bacteria, toxins or chemicals, can be involved."

Dr Brewer explains that common food poisoning symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, which can come on anywhere between 30 minutes to 48 hours following the meal.

Shot of unhealthy young woman with stomachache leaning on the couch in the living room at home.
Food poisoning can start to show signs anywhere between 30 mins to 48 hours after eating the contaminated food. (Getty Images)

"Food poisoning microbes alter the functioning of the gut, by increasing inflammation and damage to the lining of the gut barrier," Kim Plaza, Technical Advisor at Bio-Kult, says.

"These microbes may also change the representation of our resident microbes, often called dysbiosis, which has been linked to other health concerns. Some infectious bacteria may also increase antibiotic resistance, which is a public health issue."

Plaza adds that food poisoning could result in post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (PS-IBS).

"Currently, the way that infections increase the risk for IBS is thought to be due to inflammation and an altered immune response," she adds. "Around 30% of people may develop IBS following a bout of food poisoning. Interestingly, a large study found that people who were stressed, with anxiety or depression, were more likely to be diagnosed with IBS after an infection from drinking contaminated drinking water. Therefore, it may be that anxiety and depressive symptoms switch our immune responses and make us more susceptible to longer-term illness after food poisoning."

Dr Brewer says that prevention is better than a cure, and advises people to keep food properly refrigerated where possible as a rise in temperature can double bacteria growth.

"In hot weather, keep packed lunches fridge-fresh in a sandwich box with its own integral ice-pack which, when pre-frozen, can often keep food chilled for up to six hours," she adds.

Plaza says that supporting our gut health through what we eat could also allow us to recover easier if we do get food poisoning.

"Research is suggesting that we can do this through supplying our gut with fermentable fibres, such as garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke and a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables, those with brightly coloured skins in particular," Plaza says.

"We can also support gut health with traditionally fermented foods and live bacteria supplements. These are live beneficial microbes that may help to balance the diversity of bacteria in the gut, support gut barrier function, and also talk to our immune system to ensure that it is functioning optimally."

Additional reporting by SWNS.