Salmonellosis is an intestinal infection caused by Salmonella bacteria. This bacteria lives in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds. The illness is transmitted to people when they eat food that has been contaminated. Contaminated foods are often of animal origin (beef, poultry) but other foods such as eggs, unpasteurized milk and even fruits and vegetables can become contaminated.
Salmonellosis most commonly occurs when we eat contaminated foods that have not been cooked properly or that have come into contact with the bacteria. Although more uncommon, the illness can be transmitted through pet excrement (cats and dogs). Reptiles, such as lizards, turtles and iguanas almost always carry the bacteria and coming into contact with these animals can also cause this illness. Having a reptile as a pet, especially if you have young children, is therefore not recommended.
Young children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems (weakened by AIDS or cancer) are at risk for more severe symptoms caused by salmonellosis.
Salmonellosis symptoms appear 12 to 72 hours after contamination has occurred:
- abdominal cramps and pain
- nausea and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- blood in stool
In a small number of cases, Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, causing severe illness such as typhoid fever, meningitis, pneumonia or Reiter syndrome. Reiter syndrome is characterized by eye irritation, pain when urinating and joint pain. If left untreated, the syndrome can lead to arthritis.
Since many different illnesses cause the same symptoms as Salmonella, the only way to make a diagnosis is through a stool culture. Once the bacteria has been identified, the type of Salmonella and the appropriate treatment can be determined.
Salmonella usually disappears on its own within 4 to 7 days after the start of symptoms. To prevent dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea, it is recommended that those infected drink electrolyte replacement solutions (ex. Gastrolyte™, Pedialyte™). Since the risk of dehydration is greater in young children and seniors, they should be closely monitored. To learn more about the signs and symptoms associated with dehydration, see the information sheet on DIARRHEA published by Vigilance Santé. In severe cases of dehydration, intravenous rehydration, done in hospital, is required.
In cases where the infection has spread to the blood stream, antibiotic treatment may be required.
Here are a few simple measures that can help prevent salmonellosis:
- Avoid eating undercooked foods.
- Avoid drinking and eating raw or unpasteurized milk and dairy products.
- Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
- Always refrigerate meat and avoid thawing at room temperature (it is better to thaw in microwave, refrigerator or cold water).
- Avoid using the same utensils when handling raw and cooked meat.
- Wash hands regularly.