Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/407

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PTOMAINES AND PTOMAINE POISONING

Brieger isolated from a putrid mixture a ptomaine (peptotoxin) which he was unable to find when the putrefaction was more advanced.

The symptoms of ptomaine poisoning vary in kind and severity, depending on the nature and quantity of the poison consumed. These may be wholly or in part referable to the gastro-intestinal system. As a result we may have vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, usually attended with great prostration. In a majority of the cases there is evidence of involvement of the central nervous system and in some cases the symptoms are wholly of a nervous character. Prominent among these are disturbances of vision and dryness of the mouth and throat. There may be fever or a subnormal temperature. Very often there is great weakness, rapid pulse and a tendency to collapse. Other symptoms which may or may not be present are vertigo, dyspnoea, convulsions, delirium and various skin eruptions. In some cases the symptoms simulate very closely poisoning by one of the vegetable alkaloids.

There is little room to doubt that many cases of acute illness are the direct result of some form of bacterial poison consumed with the food but which in isolated cases are not always recognized as such and often called by other names. It might be said that this factor in causing sickness finds but scant recognition save in those instances where a number of persons in a community are similarly stricken at the same time.

The prophylaxis of ptomaine poisoning resolves itself into the prevention as far as possible of the bacterial invasion and decomposition of our foods and food products. Certain foods like chopped meats, cooked potato and milk and the milk products lend themselves most readily to the growth of microorganisms and for this reason are to be the more carefully guarded.

Canned goods, especially the canned meats, are frequently the source of ptomaine poisoning. This results from the fact that they are not always perfectly sterilized before sealing, and, being often held in storage for a long time, an excellent opportunity is afforded for the formation of putrefactive poisons. Canned goods should in no case be consumed if there is any evidence of gas formation as shown by "blown" cans or the escape of gas on opening the can or, if there is any rancidity or putridity of the contents.

Fish, oysters and other sea foods undergo putrefactive changes very speedily and in so doing are very prone to form poisonous products. Several of the ptomaines were first isolated from the decomposed flesh of fish. Mitilotoxin (possibly a leucomaine), the most powerful of this class of poisons, was first obtained from mussels.

Great care should be taken to avoid eating fish or any of the sea foods which show the slightest evidences of putrefaction.

Heat of sufficiently high degree is destructive to all bacteria and is