Salmonella infection

Salmonella infection is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Salmonella bacteria typically live in the intestines of animals and humans and are shed through feces. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated water or food sources — such as poultry, meat and eggs.

Typically, people with salmonella infection develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours. Signs and symptoms of salmonella infection generally last four to seven days. Most healthy people recover without specific treatment.

In some cases, the diarrhea associated with salmonella infection can be extremely dehydrating and require prompt medical attention. Life-threatening complications may also develop should the infection spread beyond your intestines. Your risk of salmonella infection is higher if you travel to countries with poor sanitation.

There are more than 2,000 varieties of salmonella bacteria, but only about a dozen of them cause illnesses in people. Most of these illnesses can be classified as gastroenteritis, often featuring severe diarrhea. But a few varieties of salmonella bacteria result in typhoid fever, a sometimes deadly disease that is more common in developing countries.

Gastroenteritis
Salmonella-induced gastroenteritis is most often caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products. The incubation period ranges from several hours to two days. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle pains
  • Blood in the stool

Typhoid fever
Most people who develop typhoid fever in the United States have recently traveled in a country where the disease is more common. The incubation period ranges from five to 21 days following infection. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fever over 102 F (38.8 C)
  • Slightly raised, rose-colored spots on your upper chest
  • Cough
  • Mental confusion
  • A slowing of your heartbeat
  • Enlargement of your liver and spleen

Salmonella infection itself isn’t life-threatening. However, in certain people — especially children, older adults, transplant recipients and people with a weakened immune system — the development of complications can be dangerous.

Dehydration
If you can’t drink enough liquids to replace the fluid you’re losing from persistent diarrhea, you may become dehydrated. Warning signs include:

  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Reduced production of tears
  • Decreased urine output

Bacteremia

If salmonella infection enters your bloodstream (bacteremia), it can infect tissues throughoutyour body, including:

  • The tissues surrounding your brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • The lining of your heart or valves (endocarditis)
  • Your bones or bone marrow (osteomyelitis)

Reactive arthritis
People who have had salmonella are at higher risk of developing reactive arthritis. Also known as Reiter’s syndrome, reactive arthritis typically causes:

  • Eye irritation
  • Painful urination
  • Painful joints

Medications

  • Antidiarrheals. Medications like loperamide (Imodium) can help relieve cramping, but they may also prolong the diarrhea associated with salmonella infection.
  • Antibiotics. If your doctor suspects that salmonella bacteria have entered your bloodstream, he or she may prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Salmonella infection is contagious, so take precautions to avoid spreading bacteria to others. Preventive methods are especially important when preparing food or providing care for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems.

Wash your hands
Washing your hands thoroughly can help prevent the transfer of salmonella bacteria to your mouth or to any food you’re preparing. Wash your hands after you:

  • Use the toilet
  • Change a diaper
  • Handle raw meat or poultry
  • Clean up pet feces
  • Touch reptiles or birds

Keep things separate

  • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood away from other foods in your refrigerator
  • If possible, have two cutting boards in your kitchen – one for raw meat and the other for fruits and vegetables
  • Never place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw meat

Avoid eating raw eggs
Cookie dough, homemade ice cream and eggnog all contain raw eggs. If you must consume raw eggs, ensure that they have been pasteurized.

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