When is empiric treatment for food poisoning indicated?

Updated: Jun 19, 2018
  • Author: Roberto M Gamarra, MD; Chief Editor: Praveen K Roy, MD, AGAF  more...
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If symptoms persist beyond 3-4 days, the specific etiology should be determined by performing stool cultures. If symptoms persist and the pathogen is isolated, specific treatment should be initiated.

Empiric treatment should be initiated in patients with suspected traveler's diarrhea or dysenteric or systemic symptoms. Treatment with an agent that covers Shigella and Campylobacter organisms is reasonable in patients with diarrhea (>4 stools/d) for more than 3 days and with fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, headache, or myalgias. A 5-day course of a fluoroquinolone (eg, ciprofloxacin 500 mg PO bid, norfloxacin 400 mg PO bid) is the first-line therapy. TMP/SMX (Bactrim DS 1 tab qd) is an alternative therapy, but resistant organisms are common in the tropics. Infection with either V cholerae or V parahaemolyticus can be treated either with a fluoroquinolone or with doxycycline (100 mg PO bid).

In the absence of dysentery, do not administer antibiotics until a microbiologic diagnosis is confirmed and E coli O157:H7 is ruled out.

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