Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Medical Science Worksheet I

It has recently been brought to my attention that the term "food poisoning" is technically limited to foodborne unpleasantness caused by toxins, as for example the toxin produced by the cholera bacterium (Vibrio cholerae), whereas viruses, even if transmitted through the same food and having the same effects, don't count as food poisoning because there is no specific "poison:" the effects of the virus are caused by the immune system's attempt to remove the virus, and not by anything the virus makes per se.

Based on the above, classify the following scenarios into "food poisoning," "not food poisoning," or "either / don't know" by labeling each with a Y, N, or ?, respectively.

___ 1. Jessica Guilford goes to Jimmy John's Sandwich Shop1 and subsequently has an excruciating day and a half sitting on the toilet because some dumbfuck who works there (and possibly shouldn't even have come in to work that day, if he'd been sick that recently) doesn't wash his hands after going to the bathroom and transfered norovirus to her roast beef sandwich.

___ 2. Kindly old Mrs. Schmidt down the street serves her husband a bowl of chicken noodle soup, to which she has added enough warfarin (rat poison) to drop a small horse.

___ 3. A server in a restaurant sneezes on your pizza as she brings it to your table. You never experience any symptoms or find out about the sneeze.

___ 4. A KGB agent spritzes a solution of Polonium-210 into the air in a restaurant where food is being served.

___ 5. A relief aid worker in one of those countries with all the problems gives a glass of water to a small child, which water turns out to contain cholera bacteria and poliovirus.

___ 6. As with #1, except that Ms. Guilford gets E. coli and lands in the hospital for two weeks and eventually has to have a kidney transfusion, which she can't afford because she's bankrupt from the initial hospital stay, and, sadly, she dies mere weeks later.

___ 7. You eat strawberries grown in Mexico which are tainted with Hepatitis A and become ill.

___ 8. You eat strawberries grown downwind of a coal-burning power plant and develop heavy-metal poisoning.

___ 9. You eat strawberries grown in an idyllic organic utopia, but you eat them at a picnic table which is downwind of a coal-burning power plant and develop heavy metal poisoning.

___ 10. You eat a hamburger, made from beef that came from a herd of cows, 15% of which test positive for mad cow disease. 50 years later, you develop Creutzfeld-Jakob disease.

1(I'm pretty sure.)

Answers in comments

1 comment:

Jessi Guilford said...


1) N. Illness caused by a virus.

2) Y. Warfarin is the toxin.

3) ?. For all you know, you might have had an asymptomatic viral infection, an asymptomatic bacterial infection, or never been infected with anything at all.

4) ?. Probably some people are going to get sick, but whether the illness is caused by inhalation or ingestion is probably impossible to determine. If they inhale the polonium, it's not food poisoning; if the polonium settles on their food and they eat it and it makes them sick, then it is food poisoning. If both, then food poisoning is true regardless of whether there was also inhalation.

5) ?. Is water food? There's definitely some inadvertent poisoning going on.

6) Y. Food poisoning. Also quite tragic.

7) N. Hepatitis A is a virus.

8) Y. Toxin = mercury.

9) ?. See question 4 for the inhalation / ingestion distinction.

10) N. To my knowledge, prions are not presently classed as toxins.