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Salmonella Infections

What are salmonella infections?

Salmonella infection is caused by the bacteria salmonella. Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea in humans. There are many different kinds of salmonella bacteria.

What causes salmonella infections?

Salmonella bacteria are passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Contaminated foods are often animal in origin. They include beef, poultry, seafood, milk, or eggs. But all foods, including some unwashed fruits and vegetables, can become contaminated.

Salmonella typhi is the one type of salmonella that lives only in humans. It's passed only from human to human through contaminated food or water. It may cause a serious and life-threatening infection called typhoid fever. Treatment often requires antibiotics. A small number of people who are treated may feel better after treatment. But they will continue to carry the organism and pass it through their feces to others through contaminated food or water.

Who is at risk for salmonella infections?

Anyone can get a salmonella infection. But young children, older adults, and people with certain health conditions such as HIV, sickle cell disease, cancer, or organ transplant are at greater risk for coming down with the disease if exposed to the germ.

These factors can raise your risk of exposure:

  • Eating raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, and beef, or unwashed fresh fruits and vegetables, including raw alfalfa sprouts

  • Handling animals or pets, such as turtles, snakes, and lizards

  • Taking medicines or having a condition that decreases stomach acid

  • Traveling to less developed parts of the world

What are the symptoms of salmonella infections?

Symptoms develop 12 to 72 hours after infection. Each person may have different symptoms. But these are the most common ones:

  • Diarrhea

  • Fever

  • Abdominal cramps

  • Chills

  • Headache

  • Nausea or vomiting

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are salmonella infections diagnosed?

Many different illnesses have symptoms like salmonella. So diagnosis depends on lab tests that identify the bacteria in your stool, blood, or other sites of infection.

How are salmonella infections treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Gastrointestinal salmonella infections often run their course in 4 to 7 days. Often no treatment is needed. But if you have severe diarrhea, you may need rehydration with IV (intravenous) fluids and antibiotics. You will also need prompt treatment with antibiotics if:

  • You have a weak immune system.

  • You are severely ill or are not getting better.

  • The infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream.

What are possible complications of salmonella infections?

Most people recover fully from a salmonella infection. The typhoid fever form of salmonella spreads to the bloodstream. It can cause prolonged fever and weight loss. It can lead to death.

Salmonella can rarely spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones, liver, spleen, and the central nervous system. Some people may develop a condition called reactive arthritis weeks or even months later. It causes joint pain, eye irritation, and painful urination.

Can salmonella infections be prevented?

Foods of animal origin pose the greatest threat of salmonella contamination. So do not eat raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, seafood, or meats. Remember that some sauces and desserts use raw eggs in their preparation, so be cautious of these, particularly in foreign countries. Also follow these recommendations from the CDC:

  • Make sure all poultry, meats, seafood, and eggs are well-cooked. Cook food containing any of these ingredients to an internal temperature of 165°F (73.8°C).

  • Don't drink raw or unpasteurized milk or other dairy products.

  • Don't eat raw or undercooked eggs. Throw away cracked eggs. Keep eggs refrigerated.

  • Thoroughly wash produce before eating it.

  • Don't cross-contaminate foods. Keep uncooked meats separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Thoroughly wash all utensils, including cutting boards, knives, and counters, after handling uncooked foods.

  • Thoroughly wash hands before handling foods and between handling different food items.

  • Thoroughly wash hands after contact with feces.

  • Thoroughly wash hands after handling any reptiles or birds. These animals are more likely to carry salmonella.

No vaccine can prevent usual cases of salmonella infection. But there is a typhoid fever vaccine. It is often advised for people travelling to high risk areas of the world. Always talk with your healthcare provider at least 4 to 8 weeks before traveling outside the U.S. to see if you need any preventive vaccines or other treatments.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

If your symptoms get worse or you get new symptoms, let your healthcare provider know. If your diarrhea lasts more than a few days or gets worse, you may get dehydrated and need IV fluids and antibiotics.

Key points about salmonella infections

  • Salmonella infections are caused by the bacteria salmonella. They generally cause diarrhea.

  • Salmonella can also cause typhoid fever. It can spread to other parts of the body.

  • Symptoms of a salmonella infection usually include diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, chills, headache, nausea, or vomiting.

  • Treatment may not be needed unless dehydration happens or the infection doesn't get better. You may also need treatment if it spreads to the blood or other body parts or if you have a weak immune system.

  • Prevention includes cooking foods fully; staying away from raw milk and eggs; and washing food, utensils, hands, and kitchen surfaces properly.

  • There is a vaccine for international travelers to help prevent typhoid fever.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions, especially after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Barry Zingman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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