Page header image

Salmonellosis

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. Salmonella can cause different types of illnesses:

  • food poisoning (gastroenteritis)
  • blood poisoning (bacteremia)
  • typhoid fever (a life-threatening illness common in many less-developed parts of the world).

These different illnesses are all caused by eating food or drinking water or other liquids contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Food poisoning causing an illness like stomach flu is the most common type of salmonellosis in the US.

Salmonellosis can be very serious for very young children, older adults, or people with a weakened immune system.

How does it occur?

Salmonella bacteria can live in the animal or human gut. They can make poisons that cause illness. The infection most often happens when you eat food that has not been properly prepared or stored. Food that may be contaminated with bacteria needs to be heated to a temperature that is high enough to destroy the poisons. If the food is not heated enough before it is eaten, the poisons can make you sick.

People most often get salmonellosis from eating food contaminated with an animal's bowel movements. Foods most likely to have the bacteria are:

  • milk and dairy products
  • eggs
  • poultry
  • meat, including processed meats.

Food can also get contaminated when someone who is infected prepares food without washing their hands with soap and water after using the bathroom. Contaminated food usually looks and smells normal.

Pets such as dogs, cats, and turtles can also spread the disease.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of food poisoning include:

  • diarrhea, which may contain blood
  • cramps in the belly
  • fever
  • chills
  • sometimes nausea and vomiting.

You may start feeling sick 8 hours to 3 days after eating contaminated food.

Symptoms of salmonella bacteremia include:

  • fever that comes and goes over several days
  • pain in the joints and around the heart and lungs.

Bacteremia is most common in people who do not have a strong immune system.

Symptoms of typhoid fever affect the whole body. They include:

  • headache
  • sore throat
  • cough
  • fever
  • rash
  • diarrhea or constipation.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she will check your temperature and examine you. Your provider will check for dehydration (severe loss of body fluids). Samples of your blood, bowel movement, and urine may be tested.

How is it treated?

Treatment for food poisoning involves controlling your symptoms. The goal is to stop the vomiting and diarrhea and prevent dehydration. If you are undernourished, severely ill, very young, or have sickle cell disease, your provider may prescribe an antibiotic. Otherwise, antibiotics are not routinely prescribed. If you are severely dehydrated, you may need to be treated at the hospital.

Blood poisoning and typhoid fever are treated with antibiotics. In some cases you may need to be treated at the hospital.

How long will the effects last?

Salmonella food poisoning usually lasts 3 to 5 days. You may still have bacteria in your system even when you no longer have symptoms. However, this is not usually a permanent condition.

Blood poisoning and typhoid fever are more serious illnesses. The symptoms tend to be more severe and it may take 2 weeks or longer to recover.

How can I take care of myself?

Make sure you follow the treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your provider if you can take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to control your fever. Keep a daily record of your temperature.

If you have cramps or stomach pain, it may help to put a hot water bottle or electric heating pad on your stomach. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low to prevent burns.

You may want to let your bowel rest for a few hours by drinking only clear liquids. Examples of clear liquids are water, weak tea, bouillon, apple juice, or sports drinks and other oral rehydrating solutions. You may also drink soft drinks without caffeine (such as 7 UP). Let sodas lose some of their carbonation (go flat) before you drink them. Make sure you drink small amounts often so that you do not get dehydrated. Not getting enough fluids to replace the fluids your body is losing while you are sick can be very dangerous. This is especially true for children, older adults, and some people who have other medical problems. Suck on ice chips or Popsicles if you feel too nauseated to drink fluids.

It’s OK to keep eating as long as it does not seem to make diarrhea or stomach cramps get worse. Foods that are easiest to digest are soft starchy foods, such as bananas, cooked cereal, rice, plain noodles, eggs, gelatin, toast or bread with jelly, and applesauce. Go back to your normal diet after 2 or 3 days, but avoid milk products and caffeine for a few days. For several days also avoid fresh fruit (other than bananas), alcohol, greasy or fatty foods, highly seasoned or spicy foods, and most fresh vegetables. Cooked carrots, potatoes, and squash are OK. If eating seems to make the diarrhea worse, let your bowel rest for a few hours by drinking just clear liquids. Then again try small amounts of the foods listed above.

Be cautious about taking antidiarrheal medicines. Nonprescription medicines such as loperamide (sold as Imodium and other trade names) or the prescription medicine Lomotil can make you sicker, especially if the diarrhea is bloody. If you take one of these medicines, make sure you use only the dose recommended on the package. If you have chronic health problems, always check with your healthcare provider before you use any medicine for diarrhea.

How can I help prevent salmonellosis?

Salmonella bacteria are killed by cooking food thoroughly. Make sure you cook all foods well, especially beef, chicken, turkey, pork, seafood, and eggs. Wash your hands well with soap and water before and after handling food. Always clean kitchen counters and cutting boards thoroughly after each use. Refrigerate foods soon after you buy them. Thaw frozen meat properly before cooking: Move the meat from the freezer to the refrigerator 1 or 2 days before you plan to cook it. Do not thaw meat and poultry at room temperature. Use only pasteurized milk, juice, and dairy products.

Always wash your hands after you use the bathroom, change diapers, or handle pets.

You may need to get immunized against typhoid fever before you travel outside the US. Check the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the countries where you will be going. Also get immunized if a member of your household carries the disease. The typhoid vaccine comes in 2 forms: oral and injection. Both forms are effective.

Ask your healthcare provider about drugs for preventing and treating traveler's diarrhea. In addition, when traveling in other countries, you may want to:

  • Drink only bottled water and liquids. Avoid tap water and ice.
  • Avoid eating unpeeled fruits. Eat fruits you peel yourself.
  • Avoid eating uncooked vegetables (such as raw, leafy vegetables) and other foods stored or served at room temperature.
  • Ask how food is being prepared. Avoid poultry, meat, eggs, and other foods that have not been refrigerated or cooked thoroughly.
  • Choose recently prepared foods, served hot or chilled.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Be especially careful to wash foods you are preparing. Clean cooking utensils well.

For more information, see the CDC's Traveler's Health Web site: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2010-08-20
Last reviewed: 2010-01-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Page footer image