Is It Salmonella?

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

The pistachio nut recall in March 2009 is only one example of numerous product recalls in recent years due to fears of contracting Salmonella food poisoning. Similarly, this year products processed by the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) were found to be the source of a Salmonella outbreak. In 2008, an outbreak arose from the consumption of certain jalapeño and serrano peppers from Mexico. As these and numerous other outbreaks illustrate, virtually any food can become contaminated with one of the many species of Salmonella.

Salmonella is a bacterial infection that is passed to humans from animals, including poultry, cattle, pigs, and domestic animals. Eating undercooked poultry and drinking unpasteurized milk are among the ways humans can acquire the infection. But increasing media coverage has focused on vegetable products as the source of many Salmonella outbreaks. When vegetables or fruits are the source of an outbreak, it means that these products have been handled unsafely, such as processing or preparation on surfaces that have become contaminated with animal feces or raw poultry. Another way for vegetables to become contaminated is by an infected food handler.

Salmonella causes symptoms of gastroenteritis -- fever, nausea, abdominal pain, and diarrhea -- that can also be accompanied by vomiting. Symptoms can begin within 12 hours of eating contaminated food and last for several days.

What should you do if you think you have a Salmonella infection? It's best to contact your health-care professional if you suspect you have acquired Salmonella food poisoning. Even though most cases of Salmonella resolve on their own without the need for antibiotics, treatment may be required if the infection spreads outside of the gastrointestinal tract or if you become severely dehydrated.

Another reason to contact your health-care professional is to aid in the monitoring of Salmonella outbreaks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) investigate and monitor outbreaks of Salmonella as they occur throughout the country. But since the symptoms of gastroenteritis are not specific and may arise from numerous other causes, your doctor can order testing to determine whether your symptoms are due to Salmonella.


Last Editorial Review: 4/6/2009




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