Last updated date: 05-Jun-2023
Originally Written in English
Causes and Symptoms of Salmonella (Salmonellosis)
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness in humans. The infection is usually caused by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood. This article covers the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of salmonella infection.
What are Salmonella?
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning in humans and animals. There are many different strains of Salmonella bacteria, but the most common one that causes illness in humans is called Salmonella enterica.
Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in the intestines of animals, including birds, reptiles, and mammals. They can also be found in contaminated food and water. When humans consume food or water that is contaminated with Salmonella, they can develop symptoms of food poisoning, including diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
Salmonella infections can be serious, especially in young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. In severe cases, Salmonella infections can lead to hospitalization, dehydration, and even death.
How common is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a fairly common bacterial infection worldwide. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that Salmonella causes about 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year. However, many cases of Salmonella infections go unreported, so the actual number of cases may be higher.
Salmonella infections can occur at any time of the year, but they are more common in the summer months when people tend to consume more fresh produce and cook outdoors. Certain foods are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella, including raw or undercooked poultry, eggs, beef, and pork, as well as raw fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated with the bacteria.
Salmonella can affect anyone, but certain groups of people are at a higher risk of severe illness, including young children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. It's important to take steps to prevent Salmonella infection, such as properly cooking and handling food, washing hands and surfaces frequently, and avoiding cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.
What causes Salmonella?
Salmonella is caused by a type of bacteria called Salmonella enterica. This bacterium can be found in the intestines of animals, including poultry, cattle, pigs, and reptiles such as turtles, lizards, and snakes. Salmonella can also contaminate food products such as eggs, meat, dairy products, and fresh produce, as well as water sources.
People can become infected with Salmonella by consuming contaminated food or water, or by coming into contact with contaminated objects or surfaces and then touching their mouth or face. The bacteria can survive for a long time outside the body and can be easily spread from person to person through contact with fecal matter.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection typically include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In some cases, the infection can be severe and lead to hospitalization, especially in young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. Treatment usually involves supportive care, such as rest, fluids, and electrolyte replacement, although antibiotics may be used in some cases.
Preventing Salmonella infection involves practicing good food safety habits, such as washing hands and cooking surfaces thoroughly, properly storing and cooking food, and avoiding cross-contamination of raw and cooked foods. It's also important to avoid contact with reptiles and their environments, especially for young children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.
Who is at higher risk for Salmonella?
Salmonella infection can affect anyone, but certain groups of people are at higher risk of developing a severe illness if they become infected. These groups include:
- Infants and young children: Children under the age of five have a higher risk of developing severe salmonella infections because their immune systems are still developing.
- Elderly individuals: The risk of severe salmonella infection increases with age, especially in individuals over 65 years old.
- Pregnant women: Pregnant women are at higher risk of developing severe salmonella infections, which can cause harm to the developing fetus.
- Individuals with weakened immune systems: People with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or undergoing chemotherapy, are more susceptible to severe salmonella infections.
- People who take certain medications: Some medications, such as proton pump inhibitors and antacids, can increase the risk of salmonella infection because they reduce the acidity of the stomach, which normally helps to kill bacteria.
- People who handle or prepare food: Food handlers, such as cooks and restaurant workers, are at higher risk of salmonella infection due to their frequent exposure to raw or undercooked meats, poultry, and eggs.
- Individuals who consume high-risk foods: Foods such as raw or undercooked meats, poultry, eggs, and unpasteurized dairy products have a higher risk of contamination with salmonella bacteria. Consuming these foods can increase the risk of infection.
What food is Salmonella found in?
Salmonella bacteria can be found in a variety of foods, but some foods are more commonly associated with salmonella infections than others.
Foods that are commonly associated with salmonella include:
- Raw or undercooked poultry, such as chicken or turkey
- Raw or undercooked eggs and foods containing raw or undercooked eggs, such as homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, or Caesar salad dressing
- Raw or undercooked meat, such as beef, pork, or lamb
- Unpasteurized milk and dairy products made from unpasteurized milk, such as cheese or ice cream
- Raw or undercooked seafood, such as oysters, clams, or sushi
- Fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated with salmonella through contact with animal feces, such as sprouts, tomatoes, or melons.
What illness do people get from Salmonella infection?
Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, can cause a range of symptoms in people, from mild to severe. The symptoms usually develop within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria and can last for up to a week.
Common symptoms of salmonella infection include:
In most cases, people recover from salmonella infection without any treatment within 4-7 days. However, in some cases, the infection can be severe and can spread from the intestines to other parts of the body, leading to complications such as:
- Bloodstream infections
- Reiter's syndrome (a type of reactive arthritis)
Young children, elderly people, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe salmonella infections and may require hospitalization.
If you suspect that you have a salmonella infection, it is important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and seek medical attention if you experience severe symptoms or if you belong to a high-risk group.
How is Salmonella infection diagnosed?
Salmonella infection is diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history, and laboratory tests. Your healthcare provider will ask you about your symptoms, recent travel, and any potential exposure to the bacteria.
Laboratory tests, such as stool cultures, blood tests, or urine tests, can help to confirm the presence of salmonella bacteria in your body. During a stool culture, a sample of your stool is collected and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The lab will check for the presence of salmonella bacteria and may also perform other tests to determine the type of bacteria causing the infection.
Other diagnostic tests, such as imaging studies or endoscopy, may be performed if your healthcare provider suspects that the infection has spread to other parts of your body or if complications are present.
If you suspect that you have a salmonella infection, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can help to prevent complications and shorten the duration of your illness.
How is Salmonella Treated?
In most cases, salmonella infection resolves on its own within a week without the need for treatment. However, if you are experiencing severe symptoms or if the infection has spread to other parts of your body, your healthcare provider may recommend treatment to help manage your symptoms and prevent complications.
Treatment for salmonella infection may include:
- Rehydration: Drinking plenty of fluids, including water, sports drinks, or broth, can help to prevent dehydration, which can be a common complication of salmonella infection.
- Antibiotics: If your infection is severe or has spread to other parts of your body, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics to help kill the bacteria. However, antibiotics are not usually recommended for mild cases of salmonella infection because they can increase the risk of antibiotic resistance and may prolong the duration of symptoms.
- Anti-diarrheal medication: Medications such as loperamide or bismuth subsalicylate can help to relieve diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. However, these medications are not recommended for people with severe symptoms, bloody diarrhea, or high fever, as they can increase the risk of complications.
- Hospitalization: In severe cases of salmonella infection, hospitalization may be necessary to prevent or manage complications, such as dehydration or sepsis.
What are the Complications of Salmonella?
Salmonella infection can cause a range of complications, especially in people with weakened immune systems, young children, and elderly people.
Some of the possible complications of salmonella infection include:
- Dehydration: Salmonella infection can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting, leading to dehydration, which can be dangerous, especially in young children and elderly people.
- Bloodstream infections: In some cases, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream, causing a condition called bacteremia or sepsis. This can be life-threatening, especially in people with weakened immune systems.
- Reiter's syndrome: This is a type of reactive arthritis that can develop after a salmonella infection. It can cause joint pain, eye inflammation, and urinary symptoms.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): In some cases, salmonella infection can trigger IBS, a chronic condition that affects the digestive system and causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.
- Endocarditis: Salmonella bacteria can infect the heart lining and valves, leading to a serious condition called endocarditis.
- Meningitis: In rare cases, salmonella bacteria can infect the lining of the brain and spinal cord, causing a serious condition called meningitis.
If you suspect that you have a salmonella infection or if you are experiencing severe symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent complications. Prompt treatment can also help to shorten the duration of your illness and prevent the spread of infection to others.
How can I Prevent Salmonella?
Salmonella infection can be prevented by following some simple measures. Here are some tips to prevent salmonella:
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially before and after handling food, using the bathroom, or caring for someone who is sick.
- Cook food thoroughly: Cook food, especially meat, poultry, and eggs, to a safe temperature to kill bacteria. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature.
- Separate raw and cooked food: Use separate cutting boards, utensils, and containers for raw and cooked food to prevent cross-contamination.
- Keep food at safe temperatures: Refrigerate perishable food within two hours of cooking or purchasing. Keep hot food hot and cold food cold.
- Avoid high-risk foods: Avoid eating raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, meat, or seafood, as these can be sources of salmonella.
- Be cautious when eating outside: When eating out or at events, make sure food is properly cooked and served at safe temperatures.
- Take care with pets: Avoid contact with reptiles, birds, and baby chicks, as these can carry salmonella bacteria. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling pets or their food.
Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness in humans. The infection is usually caused by eating contaminated food, especially raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood. The symptoms of salmonella infection can range from mild to severe and may include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. While most cases of salmonella infection resolve on their own without treatment, severe cases may require medical attention, including antibiotics and rehydration.