Diseases & Conditions
Salmonellsis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. The infection is actually a group of bacteria that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. They are microscopic living creatures that pass from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals. There are many different kinds of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella serotype Typhumurium and Salmonella serotype Enteritidis are the most common in the United States. Salmonella germs have been known to cause illness for over 100 years. They were discovered by an American scientist named Salmon, for whom they are named.
Every year approximately 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be thirty or more times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter.
Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is about five times higher than the rate in all other persons. Young children, the elderly, and the immunocompromised are the most likely to have severe infections. It is estimated that approximately 400 person die each year with acute salmonellosis.
Signs & Symptoms
Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patients needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have severe illness.
Many different kinds of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever or abdominal cramps. Determining the Salmonella is the cause of the illness depends on laboratory tests that identify Salmonella in the stool of an infected person. Once Salmonella has been identified, further testing can determine its specific type.
Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of humans and other animals, including birds. Salmonella are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with animal feces. Contaminated foods usually look and smell normal. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin, such as beef, poultry, milk or eggs, but any food, including vegetables, may become contaminated. Food may also become contaminated by the hands of an infected food handler who did not wash his/her hands with soap after using the bathroom.
Salmonella may also be found in the feces of some pets, especially those with diarrhea, and people can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with pets or pet feces. Reptiles, such as turtles, lizards, and snakes are particularly likely to harbor Salmonella. Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella in their feces. People should always wash their hands immediately after handling a reptile or bird, even if the animal is healthy.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevetion give simple tips that can help prevent Salmonella infections:
- Do not eat raw or undercooked poultry, eggs, or meat. Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods, such as Hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, cookie dough, and frostings.
- Poultry and meat, including hamburgers, should be well-cooked, not pink in the middle.
- Do not consume raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.
- Thoroughly wash produce.
- Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
- Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils should be washed thoroughly after touching uncooked foods.
- Hands should be washed before handling food and between handling different food items.
- People who have salmonellosis should not prepare food or pour water for others until their diarrhea is resolved.
- Wash hands thoroughly after contact with animal feces.
- Children should not handle baby chicks or other young birds.
- Everyone should immediately wash their hands after touching birds, including baby chicks and ducklings, or their environment.