Pathogens 101 | Salmonella

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella bacteria are the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness. Salmonella is a gram-negative, rod-shaped bacilli that can cause diarrheal illness in humans. They are passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or other animals. Learn more about this bacteria.

For over 100 years Salmonella germs have been known to cause illness. They were discovered by an American scientist named Daniel E. Salmon, for whom they are named. The Salmonella family includes over 2,300 serotypes of bacteria which are one-celled organisms too small to be seen without a microscope. Two types, Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium, are the most common in the United States and account for half of all human infections.

Food contaminated with Salmonella may not look or smell spoiled. Consumption of food contaminated with these bacteria may cause salmonellosis, a foodborne illness. Many people with salmonellosis recover without treatment and may never see a doctor. However, Salmonella infections can be life-threatening especially for infants and young children and pregnant women and their unborn babies. Older adults and those with weakened immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, and transplant patients) are also at a higher risk for foodborne illness.

Most people experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 6 to 72 hours after the contaminated food was eaten. Additional symptoms may be chills, headache, nausea and vomiting that can last up to seven days.

People with any of the following symptoms should see a health care provider immediately:

  • Signs of dehydration
  • Prolonged vomiting that prevents keeping liquids down
  • Diarrhea for more than 2 days in adults or for more than 24 hours in children
  • Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
  • A fever higher than 101 degrees
  • Stools containing blood or pus
  • Stools that are black and tarry

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

How Common is Salmonellosis?
Every year, approximately 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many milder cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be twenty-nine or more times greater. Determining that Salmonella is the cause of the illness is based on laboratory tests that can identify Salmonella in the stool of an infected person. Once Salmonella has been identified, further testing can determine its specific type.

Children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. The rate of diagnosed infections in children less than five years old is higher than the rate in all other persons. It is estimated that approximately 400 persons die each year with acute salmonellosis. Some strains are antibiotic resistant.

Are there Long-Term Consequences to a Salmonella Infection?
Persons with diarrhea usually recover completely, although it may be several months before their bowel habits are entirely normal. A small number of persons with Salmonella develop reactive arthritis, which is characterized by joint pain, irritation of the eyes, and painful urination. It can last for months or years, and can lead to chronic arthritis which is difficult to treat. Antibiotic treatment does not make a difference in whether or not the person develops arthritis. Other complications are aortic aneurysm within three months after infection and ulcerative colitis within one year after infection.


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