Salmonellosis, is an infection caused by ingesting a strain of bacteria called salmonella. It was discovered by an American scientist named Dr. Salmon, and has been known to cause illness for over 125 years.
Salmonella bacteria can grow in a variety of places, including water, raw meat, seafood, certain pets, and eggs. Within 48 hours after the bacteria are consumed, they pass through the stomach to the intestine, where inflammation occurs and spreads.
The majority of salmonella infections are caused by food or water that is contaminated with salmonella bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that salmonella infections cause about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths in the United States every year.
Salmonellosis is more common in summer months than in winter.
Symptoms of Salmonella Infection
Within 12 to 72 hours after exposure to the salmonella bacteria, most people will develop:
- Abdominal cramps
The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and many people recover without treatment. In some people, though, diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. If left untreated, the salmonella infection can spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and on to other body sites. The elderly, children under age 5, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have severe cases of salmonellosis. They are at greater risk of having long-term health effects or dying if not treated with antibiotics.
In a small number of people, joint pain known as reactive arthritis develops as a result of a salmonella infection. Ultimately, this arthritis also can leads to chronic arthritis, eye irritation, and painful urination. It does not appear that antibiotic treatment for the salmonella infection has an impact on whether or not a person develops reactive arthritis.
A risk factor is something that increases your chances or getting a certain disease or condition. Factors that increase your chance of getting salmonellosis include:
- Eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or seafood
- Eating unpasteurized dairy products
- Eating other contaminated foods
- Drinking contaminated water
- Handling reptiles, especially turtles
- Taking antibiotics
- Having a compromised immune system, such as that sometimes found in:
- Elderly persons
- People with HIV/AIDS
- People with low stomach acidity, such as those who take medication that reduces stomach acid
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history, and a physical exam will be done. Your doctor will test your stool or blood to confirm presence of the bacteria and ensure that a different illness with similar symptoms is not the cause.
Once the salmonella bacteria are identified in the specimen, additional testing can determine the exact strain and what an appropriate treatment regimen should be. Typhoid fever also is the result of an infection with salmonella bacteria, but is not common in the United States.
Over-the-counter medications or oral rehydration solutions may be used to treat the symptoms of salmonellosis. The symptoms usually improve within 2-5 days. If symptoms become severe, though, talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options for more severe cases may include hospitalization and:
- Rehydration therapy—Oral or IV fluid replacement; electrolytes also may be added to the solution.
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen—Over-the-counter pain relievers to reduce fever or treat headaches and other pain.
- Antibiotics—required only in severe cases where blood infection may occur. Antibiotic use in non-severe cases does not improve a person's outcome and may cause the bacteria to stay longer in your system.
There is no vaccine to prevent salmonellosis and food contaminated with salmonella bacteria usually looks and smells fine. As a result, it is important to understand how to help reduce your chance of getting an infection. The CDC recommends:
- Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to ensure that foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature:
- 145°F for whole meats (allowing meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
- 160°F for ground meats
- 165°F for poultry
- Place foods in the refrigerator promptly. Keep your refrigerator temperature below 40°F and refrigerate any food that can spoil.
- Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
- If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, do not hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
- Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
- Do not use the same cutting boards for raw meats and raw vegetables.
- Do not drink unpasteurized milk.
- Report suspected illness from food to your local health department.
- Drink bottled or purified water when traveling.
- Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
- Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
- Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants, pregnant women, or people with weak immune systems.
- Do not work with raw poultry or meat, and handle, change, or feed a baby or child at the same time.
- Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.
Dr. Sanjay Jaswani of LewisGale Physicians can answer all of your questions regarding Salmonella and its symptoms. To schedule an appointment, call the office at (540) 725-3060 or book an appointment online below.
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