Salmonella Food Poisoning (Salmonellosis)

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Salmonella food poisoning facts

  • Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of humans and animals and are excreted in feces.
  • Salmonella infection occurs from consumption of raw meats and eggs, contaminated dairy foods such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or fruits and vegetables contaminated by food handlers.
  • The infection causes gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Symptoms develop within 12-72 hours and typically last four to seven days.
  • In most cases, no specific treatment is needed other than adequate hydration.
  • People at risk for complications or those with particularly severe illness may need antibiotic therapy.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent Salmonella infection.
  • Reptiles, rodents, and birds may be infected with Salmonella. Contact with these animals increases the likelihood of getting the infection.
  • Infection can be prevented by attention to hygiene during food preparation and handling of animals.

What is Salmonella food poisoning?

Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, is sometimes referred to as Salmonella food poisoning. Salmonella are a type of bacteria that have been known to cause illness for over 100 years. The organism is named for a scientist named Daniel Elmer Salmon, who discovered the bacteria. Salmonellosis is a food-borne infection typically caused by consumption of contaminated foods. There are about 42,000 cases of salmonellosis reported each year in the U.S. Because the illness is not always reported or diagnosed, it is estimated that the actual number of infection may be much higher than this.

Different types of the Salmonella bacteria can cause the illness. The two most common types in the U.S. are S. typhimurium and S. enteritidis. Specific strains of the bacteria can be responsible for outbreaks of the disease. For example, a recent outbreak in 2013-14 was linked to multidrug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. This strain and some other strains have become resistant to many drugs traditionally used to treat the infection, posing a risk to public health.

Some types of Salmonella bacteria cause typhoid fever, a serious illness that occurs most often in nonindustrialized areas of the world.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/18/2014

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Diagnosing Food Poisoning

Is it necessary to conduct a culture of feces or vomit in order to determine that a person has food poisoning?

Food poisoning is a general term that refers to gastrointestinal illnesses (usually diarrhea and/or vomiting) caused by food that is contaminated with bacteria, parasites, viruses, or toxic substances. The actual cause of most individual episodes of food poisoning, however, never is pursued (for example, a culture is not done) since most episodes are mild or moderate in severity and are over in a few hours to a few days. In fact, the diagnosis of food poisoning usually is made only presumptively, based on the patient's symptoms and the circumstances.