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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Salmonellosis

Updated on December 31, 2008


One of the major types of food poisoning, this disease is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at room temperatures. While salmonellosis is fatal in only 1 percent of cases, it is very dangerous in pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with cancer or AIDS.


Salmonellosis is very common in developed countries as bone meal, fertilizer, and pet foods may all be implicated in the spread of the disease. In particular, recent outbreaks have been linked to chickens and eggs; it is estimated that 60 percent of chicken carcasses in processing plants harbor the bacteria.


Cause - Salmonellosis is caused by infection with the Salmonella bacteria; even extremely low doses (too low to be detected by current standards) can cause food poisoning. The incidence of salmonellosis appears to be spreading in epidemic proportions. Bacteria are now commonly found in eggs and poultry across the country; it is estimated that 60 percent of chicken carcasses in U.S. processing plants harbor the bacteria. Salmonella is also present in raw meats, fish, raw milk, bone meal, fertilizer, and pet foods as well as in pet turtles and marijuana, and it can also be transferred to food from the excrement of infected animals or people. One type of the bacteria, S. enteritidis, has been found in the eggs of chickens with the disease. The more bacteria injested, the faster illness will occur.


Symptoms - While tiny amounts of Salmonella can be ingested in otherwise healthy people without problem, a minimal number may cause salmonellosis symptoms from 12 to 48 hours after eating tainted food, smoking tainted marijuana, or handling infected turtles. Symptoms vary, depending on the amount of bacteria that were eaten, but include headache, nausea, vomiting, fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually last two to seven days. Severe cases can lead to shock and can be fatal in infants and the elderly.


Treatment - As with most types of food poisoning, there is no specific treatment. Patients should eat a bland diet and drink plenty of fluids to combat dehydration. Antibiotic treatment (chloramphenicol, ampicillin, or tetracycline) should be administered only in cases of severe infection or if there is indication of bacteria in the blood.


Prevention - Fortunately for consumers, proper handling and cooking of contaminated food will kill the Salmonella bacteria. Proper refrigeration and cooking methods for meat and eggs must be observed at all times. Eggs should be refrigerated and not used raw (such as in Caesar salad or egg nog). Raw chicken should never touch any other food or utensils during preparation, and cooks should wash their hands after touching raw chicken. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service has approved two methods to combat the rising level of Salmonella in chicken; the use of trisodium phosphate in a rinse to destroy bacteria and the use of irradiation to control potential contamination on poultry. Food-grade trisodium phosphate is a federally approved ingredient that, according to tests, has no discernible effect on the taste, texture, or color of chicken. The compound destroys Salmonella by stripping a thin, exterior fat coating on the chickens. No residue is absorbed in the skin or meat of the birds. No labeling is required for trisodium phosphate-treated chickens, but irradiated chicken must prominently carry the international symbol for the process with the words "treated with irradiation" on labels. However, irradiating food is not a guarantee that it won't be contaminated. While irradiation might kill most of the bacteria, it can also make it easier for those that are left to survive. Irradiation has also provoked strong consumer resistance as it is associated with nuclear radiation.


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