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Salmonella Infection: Things You Should Know to Stay Safe

Get the most up-to-date information about salmonella infection in this article – symptoms, causes, treatment, complications, and prevention.

Did you know many people with salmonella bacteria in their intestines may not have any symptoms, while others may need a treatment?

In the wake of salmonella outbreaks in various states of America, it is quite natural for you to be concerned about your health. In this article, you will learn the common symptoms, sources, your treatment options, and the risk of catching the infection. Moreover, you will also learn the ways to prevent it.

What is Salmonella? Learn the Basics

Salmonella is a term that refers to a group of bacteria that cause an infection of the digestive tract, which is called salmonellosis or simply salmonella infection. Interestingly, most people call the infection “salmonella,” which is actually the cause of the infection.

It is a gram-negative bacterium that can cause diarrhea in some people. More than 2,300 subtypes of the Salmonella enterica bacterium have been identified. These include – serovars enterititis, Salmonella Agbeni, and typhimurium. It is found in the intestines of infected humans and animals. Among these, only twelve are known to cause the infection.

The infection is usually non-serious and quite common. While people may be symptomless, some may develop fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. The symptoms typically develop within eight to seventy-two hours after the bacteria enters your body.

For most healthy people, the recovery period is typically four to seven days, without any specific treatment. However, for some people, especially those who have developed severe diarrhea, it can cause life-threatening complications.

Salmonella Poisoning Signs and Symptoms

The signs of salmonella poisoning are mainly related to the stomach and include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool
  • Headache
  • Pain in the muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Chills

These symptoms are non-specific and could be due to other types of bacteria and viruses. Therefore, it can be handy if you remember the foods that you took a few days before the symptoms started appearing. This is even more important if you live within or near an area where the outbreak has just occurred.

The signs and symptoms usually last no more than a week; however, diarrhea can persist for up to ten days. Likewise, it might take a few months for your bowel habits to restore.

Salmonella Sources: Watch What You Eat and Drink

Contaminated foods, milk, and water are the most common sources. Contamination can occur in:

Uncooked meat, poultry, and seafood

Raw meats such as beef and pork and poultry can come in contact with the bacteria in feces during the butchering process. Likewise, seafood harvested from contaminated water can also contain the bacteria.

Uncooked eggs

An egg is likely to contain the bacteria if the chicken was infected at the time of laying the egg. Homemade mayonnaise and sauces that use raw eggs might be the possible sources.

Fruits and vegetables

If you eat fresh fruits and vegetables that have come in contact with contaminated water or contaminated animal poop-derived fertilizers, you will likely get an infection. The latter case is common with lettuce, spinach, and strawberries. In addition, vegetables can also acquire salmonella if they come in contact with juices from contaminated chicken or steak while preparing a salad.

Other less common sources are pets, such as dogs, cats, and birds. Additionally, improper hand washing after using the bathroom or changing a baby’s diaper can also lead to an infection.

Salmonella Treatment: Know Your Options

The choice of treatment and its outcome largely depends on the disease severity and general health of the patient.

For example, a healthy person may recover well simply by drinking a lot of water and other fluids. However, a person with compromised immunity, such as elderly or those with chronic health conditions, may need to see a doctor. A doctor is able to prescribe antibiotics once the presence of salmonella in the body has been confirmed.

Other supportive treatments include – acetaminophen to treat fever and electrolyte solutions to maintain electrolyte balance and prevent dehydration.

If your doctor has prescribed an antibiotic, make sure to follow all the instructions. This is important to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance, a condition when the prescribed antibiotic no longer works for the infection.

The 3 Life-threatening Complications of Salmonella You Should Not Ignore

It is not a life-threatening infection on its own; however, it can lead to serious complications in certain groups of people. These include:

  • Infants and children
  • Elderly
  • Those with weakened immune systems
  • People who have been taking immune-suppressive medications
  • Pregnant women

1.   Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when you fail to replace the lost fluids. Talk to your right away if you have any of the following warning signs of dehydration:

  • A significant decrease in the frequency or volume of urine output
  • Dryness in the mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Reduced production of tears (which can lead to dry eyes)

2.   Bacteremia

Bacteremia is a potentially serious condition that occurs when salmonella reaches the bloodstream. Once in the blood, the bacteria can infect the tissues such as:

  • Coverings of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)
  • Those that line the heart or valves (endocarditis), or the blood vessels.
  • The bones or bone marrow (osteomyelitis)

3.   Reactive arthritis

Rarely, in some people, salmonella can cause joint pain, which is called reactive arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome. It can affect a person for months or years and even lead to a difficult-to-treat condition called chronic arthritis.

People who have developed reactive arthritis can also have eye irritation and pain during urination.

Salmonella Prevention: Wash, Watch, and Cook Well

Proper hand washing, healthy eating habits, and cooking foods (especially meats) at correct temperatures are key to preventing the infection.

Hand Wash

Wash your hands with a soap and clean water after you use the bathroom, change your baby’s diaper, or handle uncooked meat or poultry. Lather up with soap, and let it stay in contact with your hands for at least 20 seconds.

You should also make sure to clean your hands after cleaning pet feces, or touching reptiles and birds.

Healthy Eating Habits

  • Do not eat raw or improperly cooked eggs.
  • Eat your fruits and vegetables only after washing them properly with clean water. If possible, peel them.

Cook Well

Cook the meats at correct temperatures.

Lastly, prevent cross-contamination by not mixing cooked foods with the raw ones while serving or during storage.

Salmonella: Interesting Facts

  • In addition to the common uncooked meat and eggs containing the bacteria, processed foods can carry Salmonella as well. These include products such as nut butters, frozen potpies, chicken nuggets, and stuffed chicken entrees.
  • Salmonella is more common in summer than in winter.
  • It can be serious in some cases and certain people might be at a greater risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications, such as those with diabetes, liver or kidney disease, and cancer or undergoing their treatment.
  • Salmonella is more than a digestive issue; it can affect your joints, eyes, and urinary function.
  • Cooked eggs with runny whites or yolks can still make you sick.
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