What is salmonella?

Salmonella is one of the most common types of food poisoning caused by bacteria in the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control gets about 42,000 reports of salmonella each year. Experts there believe the total number of cases actually may be more than 1.2 million. Salmonella is more common in the summer than the winter.

Salmonella usually is a brief illness with stomach cramps and diarrhea that lasts four to seven days. In some people, the diarrhea can be severe or last longer. In general, children are more likely to get salmonella than other age groups.

Who is at risk for severe salmonella?

  • Older people (age 65 and older)
  • Infants
  • People with weak immune systems (cancer patients, frail elderly people, people with HIV or AIDS).
  • People with inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease)

How does a person get salmonella?

Salmonella are a type of bacteria that can live in the digestive tract (intestines) of humans and other animals. Salmonella can pass out of the intestines into poop (feces/stool). A person can get infected with Salmonella by:

  • Eating undercooked foods contaminated with animal feces.
    • Cooking food destroys Salmonella. Eating raw or undercooked beef, poultry (like chicken or duck), and seafood are a risk. Foods that contain raw eggs also are a risk (like cookie dough or homemade mayonnaise).
    • Milk and unwashed, raw vegetables and fruit also can carry Salmonella.
  • Eating food prepared on surfaces that were in contact with raw meat (such as a cutting board, or countertop).
  • Eating foods contaminated with human feces.
    • This can happen if a food worker does not wash his or her hands before handling food.
  • Holding, kissing or petting turtles, snakes, lizards, chicks and baby birds.
    • These animals are likely to carry Salmonella. People can get infected if they do not wash their hands after they handle these animals or touch their feces or environment (cage, pen, ground, etc.).
    • FYI: In 1975 the US Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of small turtles in the United States because of the risk of salmonella.

What are the symptoms of salmonella?

What are the complications of salmonella?

Most people who get salmonella feel better within a week and recover completely. It may take a few months before their bowel system is back to normal.

In severe cases, Salmonella bacteria can get into the bloodstream and travel to the liver, kidneys, or other organs. When this happens, the person must be treated with antibiotics. If treatment is not started soon enough, the infection can cause death. About 400 people a year die from salmonella in the United States.

Reiter’s syndrome is a rare complication of salmonella. In this condition, the person develops joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and pain on urination. Reiter’s syndrome can last for months or years and can lead to arthritis that is difficult to treat.

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