How can you avoid it?
You’re in the kitchen cooking and crack open an egg for the omelet you’re making. After you throw away the shell, you wash your hands because you know that touching raw eggs puts you at risk for salmonella. However, it’s not the only way that you can encounter it. Where else do the bacteria live? What else can you do to prevent an infection?
Salmonella is a common bacterium that can infect the intestinal tract. This infection is called salmonellosis. The bacterium usually lives in the digestive system of animals and humans and is shed through feces. People become infected when they come into contact with contaminated water or food. Some foods that are commonly impacted are raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Fruits and vegetables can also be tainted if they’re hydrated in the field or washed during processing with contaminated water. Salmonella is spread by people who don’t wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom/changing a diaper, or handling certain types of pets that are more prone to carrying the bacteria (ex. reptiles or birds).
The incubation period is somewhere between several hours to two days. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, chills, headache, and blood in the stool. These usually last two to seven days, although diarrhea can last up to 10 days. For some individuals, it can take months before their bowels return to normal.
Some things can increase your chances of getting salmonella. If you travel to developing countries that have poor sanitation, your risk level is higher. If you have certain medical conditions or take specific medications, you’re more likely to be infected. Conditions that make you more susceptible include inflammatory bowel disease, AIDS, sickle cell disease, and malaria. Medications that elevate your risk are antacids, corticosteroids, recent use of antibiotics, and anti-rejection drugs taken after organ transplants.
While complications aren’t frequent, if they do develop, they can be quite serious. One major concern is dehydration if you aren’t able to replace the fluids your body is losing due to diarrhea. Signs of this are decreased urine output, dry mouth/tongue, sunken eyes, and reduced production of tears. Salmonella can enter the bloodstream, resulting in bacteremia. Once this happens, it can travel to other parts of your body, causing infections there, such as meningitis (brain and spinal cord), endocarditis (heart and heart valves), osteomyelitis (bones and bone marrow), and lining of your blood vessels. If you have a salmonella infection, your odds of developing reactive arthritis are significantly increased. This usually causes eye irritation, painful urination, and painful joints.
The focus of treating salmonella is to replace the fluid and electrolytes you’re losing through diarrhea. Initially, for adults, this can be drinking water or sucking on ice chips. If needed, you can try sports drinks that have electrolytes added to them. For children, you should use oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte. If the dehydration is severe, you might need to be hospitalized to receive intravenous (IV) fluids.
When it comes to anti-diarrheal medications, like loperamide, they can help relieve cramping but might prolong the length of time you have diarrhea. So, this means be careful when taking them. As far as antibiotics, they aren’t usually given unless the infection has entered your bloodstream, you have a compromised immune system, or you’ve got a severe case. Typically, antibiotics don’t help in mild to moderate cases. In addition, they can prolong the period that you carry the bacteria and can infect others and increase your chance of having a relapse.
To prevention salmonella from spreading in the food supply chain, the Department of Agriculture created the Salmonella Action Plan. It’s designed to update the poultry slaughter inspection system. It accomplishes this by enhancing sampling and testing programs for poultry and meat.
However, each of us needs to do what we can to reduce the spread of the bacteria. This is especially true when preparing food or providing care to infants, older adults, and those with a weakened immune system. The most important thing you can do is to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, which means using soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. You should do this every time you use the toilet, change a diaper, handle raw meat/poultry, clean up pet feces, or touch reptiles or birds. When it comes to food prep, store raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs away from other foods in your refrigerator. Have two cutting boards (one for raw meat and the other for fruits and vegetables). Don’t place cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously had raw meat on it. Avoid eating raw eggs or products that contain raw eggs (ex. cookie dough, homemade ice cream, and eggnog) unless they say they’re pasteurized. When cooking, make sure all food is cooked thoroughly and refrigerate or freeze food promptly.
Salmonella is not something anyone wants. However, it usually gets better on its own; just be sure to stay hydrated. If you have any questions or concerns about salmonella, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit MedlinePlus’ Salmonella Infections page at https://medlineplus.gov/salmonellainfections.html