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Salmonella Food Poisoning

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News & Research What is Salmonella Food Poisoning?

Salmonella bacteria are a group of microscopic living creatures that are carried widely in animals, especially poultry and swine. They pass from the feces of people or animals, to other people or other animals.

Symptoms of Salmonella

Most persons with a Salmonella infection develop a diarrhea illness within 6 to 72 hours from the ingestion of the bacteria. Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever occur in varying degrees of severity, depending on a number of factors. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, although mild cases may only last 1-2 days. In some cases, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Most persons recover without treatment.

Some cases may cause severe illness, hospitalization and even death in susceptible people such as children under 5, the elderly, and people who have lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems or other diseases.

Arthritic symptoms may follow 3-4 weeks after onset of the gastrointestinal symptoms, in some cases.


Turtles usually carry salmonellaReptiles, including turtles, and amphibians, such as frogs, toads, newts, and salamanders, can transmit salmonellosis to people. Photo courtesy of CDC/James Gathany

Environmental sources for exposure of humans to salmonella include water, soil, insects, animal feces, factory surfaces, kitchen surfaces, raw meats, raw poultry, raw seafoods, eggs, the outside of egg shells, milk and dairy products, fish, shrimp, frog legs, yeast, coconut, sauces and salad dressing, cake mixes, cream-filled desserts and toppings, dried gelatin, peanut butter, cocoa, and chocolate.


Salmonella infections are diagnosed by stool culture, ordered by your health care provider.


In most cases, Salmonella infections resolve in 5-7 days without treatment.

In more severe infections, the patient may become severely dehydrated and require intravenous fluids. Antibiotics may be neccessary if the infection spreads from the intestines and into the bloodstream. In this event, the infection can become critical and even result in death unless the person is treated immediately with antibiotics. Usually the choice of antibiotic will depend upon the culture results. Unfortunately, some Salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics, largely as a result of the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of feed animals.

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly before eating. If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw unpasteurized milk. Handwashing is very important
  • Hands, cutting boards, counters, knives, and other utensils should be washed thoroughly with soap and water after handling uncooked foods, especially raw meat or poultry.
  • Hands should be washed before handling any food, and between handling different food items.
  • Avoid cross-contamination of foods: Uncooked meats should be kept separate from produce, cooked foods, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands carefully with soap and water after handling reptiles or birds. Salmonella infections are common in reptiles and birds.
  • Never allow children to keep reptiles as pets. Small turtles are still on the market in pet stores, flea markets, and on the Internet despite the fact that their sale has been illegal since 1975.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly after handling all reptiles, even if it appears healthy. Photo courtesy of CDC/ James Gathany
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles and children under 5, elderly and immunocompromised persons.
  • Wash hands carefully with soap and water after contact with pet feces.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breast-feeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.
News, Headlines, and Research

Salmonella infections from small turtles strikes 33 states
Small turtles are once again the source of a nine-month-long outbreak of gastroenteritis that has so far sickened 103 people in 33 states.

Most small turtles are known to carry salmonella, in fact reptiles in general are a well-established source of human salmonellosis. Because of the particular danger to small children, the sale of small turtles has been banned in the U.S. since 1975. However, small turtles may be sold legally for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes. In spite of the ban, small turtles are still widely available in pet shops, flea markets, through street vendors, and on the Internet. During 2001-2006, the number of turtles kept as pets in the United States increased 86% to equal nearly two million. CDC, January 2008


Salmonellosis from the CDC
Salmonella from the FDA

Written by N Thompson, RN, MSN, ARNP and M Thompson, MD, Internal Medicine, Last updated January 2008

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