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Salmonella Poisoning – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Updated on February 17, 2014

Salmonella poisoning is caused by a type of bacteria typically found in raw meat, poultry and eggs, unprocessed milk and dairy products, as well as contaminated water. When salmonella bacteria infect the intestines, gastroenteritis will result. This condition is typified by vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Though it is usually accompanied by mild to moderate discomfort only, it could lead to dehydration. Salmonella food poisoning treatment consists primarily of supportive care; but antibiotics may be required in some cases.

About Salmonella Bacteria

The genus Salmonella consists of more than 2500 subtypes of bacteria. They thrive in unhygienic conditions and can be found in the intestines of many animals such as pigs, cows, and birds, especially poultry like chicken and turkey. This is the reason why Salmonella contamination is rampant in raw meats, poultry, including eggs, as well as milk and other unprocessed dairy products. In addition, Salmonella can also be found in beans, nuts, and other vegetables and fruits.

This group of bacteria can cause illnesses not only in animals but also in humans. Throughout the world, Salmonella is responsible for numerous cases of Salmonella poisoning or non-typhoidal salmonellosis, and typhoid and paratyphoid fevers.

Causes of Salmonella Poisoning

Salmonella poisoning, also referred to as gastroenteritis, can come about in a number of ways since the bacteria can come from an assortment of sources.

  • Eating food contaminated with Salmonella

Raw or undercooked meats and eggs; vegetables, fruits and nuts that are not properly washed; and unsterilized milk and milk products are the common causes of non-typhoidal salmonellosis.

  • Contact with Salmonella-infected animals

Some of the frequent carriers of this type of bacteria are tortoises, rodents, cats, dogs and terrapins. Handling the feces of an infected animal could transmit the bacteria to you from your hands, through your mouth and into your intestines where they will thrive and cause the disease.

  • Contact with a person infected with Salmonella

If proper hand washing is not practiced, there is a likely chance that you can get infected with Salmonella when you have close contact with someone who is already a carrier of the bacteria.

Symptoms of Salmonella Poisoning

Twelve to 72 hours after getting infected with Salmonella, symptoms of gastroenteritis will become apparent. Some of the signs and symptoms are:

  • Abdominal cramps or pain

  • Chills

  • Diarrhea (with or without blood)

  • Fever

  • Headache

  • Muscle pains

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

Usually, the condition is mild and resolves within 4 to 7 days even without treatment. However, it may require several months before the intestines fully recover. In cases where vomiting or diarrhea is severe, the risk of dehydration is high. It is therefore imperative to increase fluid intake since this could be fatal especially for very young children and elderly patients.

Diagnosis of Salmonella Poisoning

Many non-typhoidal salmonellosis cases usually go undiagnosed because the condition resolves by itself. However, if you experience severe abdominal cramping, vomiting or diarrhea, a visit to the doctor is recommended. The doctor may do a physical exam to check for signs of dehydration, abdominal tenderness, high temperature, blood pressure and pulse. He or she will also review your medical history as well as interview you about how you may have contracted the infection; such as eating undercooked or unwashed food, handling animals, and others. To make a conclusive diagnosis, stool analysis can be done to check for the presence of Salmonella.

Treatment of Salmonella Poisoning

In general, Salmonella poisoning does not require treatment since the body will clear itself of the infection. Even so, you must be on the lookout for possible dehydration especially if diarrhea or vomiting is severe that the body will lose the fluid it needs.

The following are the steps to be taken until the condition improves:

  • Increase fluid intake

The amount of fluids ingested must be increased to ensure that dehydration will not arise. The fluids lost during vomiting and diarrhea should be restored. Oral rehydration salts, soups and water can help; whereas sodas and fruit juices should be avoided.

If the patient is already dehydrated, dehydration can be treated with more fluid intake and use of rehydration salts. For severe dehydration, hospitalization may be required to get the fluid level back to normal. This could be achieved through nasogastric tube or intravenous fluids.

  • Maintain as normal a diet as possible

Starving yourself will not help at all. Eat light, frequent meals if your body can take it. Avoid fatty and spicy foods; instead go for rice and whole meal breads. If the stomach cannot take solid food, make sure that fluid intake is maintained.

  • Medications

Antibiotics are not usually prescribed, but they can be used for patients who are very young, very old or have compromised immune systems. Ibuprofen and paracetamol can also be taken to help ease fever.

Salmonella poisoning is very common and yet easily preventable. Correct sanitary practices as well as proper preparation and cooking of food are the key.


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