Salmonellosis (Salmonella Infection)

By:    Published: November 3, 2011

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Salmonellosis or salmonella infection is one of the most common food borne illnesses in the United States, affecting approximately 40,000 people per year, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Salmonellosis is caused by the bacteria Salmonella, and is most often associated with symptoms of digestive distress, including abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Most cases of salmonella do not require medical intervention and symptoms often subside within four to seven days. Salmonellosis is usually contracted when foods infected with the Salmonella bacteria are consumed. As such, thoroughly cooking meat or poultry, not eating raw eggs, and washing your hands before and after handling raw meat or poultry may prevent salmonellosis.

Symptoms

Symptoms of salmonellosis occur 12-to-70 hours after infection and can last up to seven days. Symptoms of a salmonella infection include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Bloody stool

Some strains of salmonella bacteria can result in typhoid fever, a potentially fatal disease that is more commonly found in developing countries.

Cause

Salmonellosis is caused by the bacteria Salmonella, which resides and proliferates in the small intestine. Consuming foods that are infected with Salmonella is the most common cause of salmonellosis. Commonly contaminated foods include:

  • Raw meat, poultry and seafood: Raw meat and poultry may come into contact with infected feces during the butchering process. Seafood may also become contaminated if it is harvested from Salmonella infected water.
  • Raw eggs: Infected chickens may produce eggs that contain salmonella.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Fresh produce may be washed by water contaminated with salmonella when they are initially processed. Contamination may also occur in the kitchen, when juices from raw meat and poultry come into contact with uncooked foods, such as salads.

Food may also become contaminated with Salmonella if it is prepared by people who fail to wash their hands thoroughly after going to the bathroom or changing a diaper.   Additionally, salmonellosis may also occur if hands are not washed thoroughly after coming into contact with infected pets such as birds or reptiles. 

Diagnosis

In order to diagnose salmonellosis, your doctor will perform a comprehensive physical exam and medical history. A salmonellosis diagnosis is usually confirmed with stool culture. However, in most instances this test is inefficient, since symptoms of salmonellosis subside by the time the test results return. Additionally, a blood test may also be ordered if your doctor suspects that you may have a salmonella infection in your bloodstream.

Treatment

Most cases of salmonellosis do not require any medical intervention. However, it is critical to remain hydrated for the duration of the infection, especially for those who are experiencing vomiting and diarrhea. Adults should drink water or suck on ice chips. Children should be provided with an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte. Those experiencing severe diarrhea or vomiting may require hospitalization where fluids are delivered intravenously in order to prevent dehydration.

Additionally your doctor may also recommend the following medications:

  • Anti-diarrheals: These over the counter medications, such as Imodium, may be prescribed to help relieve cramping brought on by diarrhea.
  • Antibiotics: These are prescribed for those cases where the salmonella bacteria have entered the bloodstream or if the patient is immunocompromised. Antibiotics are not beneficial in uncomplicated cases. In fact, antibiotics may prolong the period in which you carry the bacteria and can infect others.

Prevention

Salmonellosis is contagious, therefore taking preventive measures is key to stopping the spread of the infection. It is especially important to implement preventative measures when you are preparing food or providing care for infants, adults, and immunocompromised individuals. Preventative measures include:

Washing your hands: This is a first line defense against preventing the transmission of salmonella bacteria to the mouth or to food that you are preparing. It is important to wash your hands after:

  • Going to the bathroom
  • Changing a diaper
  • Handling raw meat or poultry
  • Cleaning up your pet's feces
  • Handling reptiles or birds

Preventing cross-contamination: Store raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods in your refrigerator. Have two cutting boards- one for raw meat or poultry and another for fruits and vegetables. Do not place cooked foods on an unwashed plate that was utilized for raw meat. Wash kitchen surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.

Avoid eating raw eggs: Raw eggs are often found in cookie dough, homemade ice cream, and eggnog. Raw eggs may also be used in sauces or condiments such as hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other salad dressings, and homemade mayonnaise.

Food preparation: Use a meat thermometer to be sure foods are cooked to a safe temperature. Wash or peel produce before eating it.

Sources:

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