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Fact Sheet: Salmonellosis

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is an infection caused by some bacteria called Salmonella. The bacteria can cause diarrhea (frequent and watery bowel movements) in humans, and it can pass between humans and animals in their solid waste. There are many different kinds of Salmonella bacteria. Salmonella has been known to cause illness for more than 100 years. It was discovered by an American scientist named Salmon, for whom it was named.


Who gets salmonellosis?

Anyone can get salmonellosis, but it is recognized more often in infants and children.


How common is salmonellosis?

It is one of the more common causes of diarrhea. Every year, about 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States. Because many mild cases are not diagnosed or reported, the actual number of infections may be twenty or more times greater. Salmonellosis is more common in the summer than winter, and children are the most likely to get salmonellosis. Young children, the elderly, the persons with weakened immune systems due to medical conditions are the most likely to have a bad infection. It is estimated that about 1,000 persons in the U.S. die each year from salmonellosis.


What are the symptoms of salmonellosis?

Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps 12 to 72 hours after contact is made. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, in some persons the diarrhea may be so bad that the patient needs to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the gut to the blood, and then to other sites in the body, and can cause death unless the person is treated right away with prescription medications. The elderly, infants, and those sensitive to disease are more likely to have a bad illness.


How is it diagnosed?

Many different kinds of illnesses can cause diarrhea, fever, or stomach cramps. To decide if Salmonella is the cause of the illness, lab tests must be done. This is done by testing samples of the sick person's bowel movements. These tests are sometimes not done unless the lab is instructed specifically to look for Salmonella. Once Salmonella has been identified, further testing can tell its specific type, and which antibiotics could be used to treat it.


What is the treatment for salmonellosis?

Most people with salmonellosis will recover on their own. Some people may need fluids to prevent dehydration (drying up of bodily fluids). Antibiotics and antidiarrheal drugs are generally not recommended for typical cases of salmonellosis, since treating with antibiotics may lengthen the time a person can carry the disease.


How are Salmonella bacteria spread?

Salmonella bacteria are spread by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with the bacteria, or by contact with people or animals with the disease. Salmonella live in the guts of humans and other animals, including birds, and are passed through their bowel movements.

Many raw foods from animals have Salmonella, but by cooking it, the Salmonella is killed. People may also get the bacteria from an infected food handler who did not wash his or her hands with soap and water after using the bathroom. Hard-to-clean raw foods have also been known to have salmonella on them (e.g., sprouts, clover, etc).
Reptile Safety Tips Poster
Salmonella may also be found in the solid waste of some pets, especially those with diarrhea. People can then get infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with the waste itself. Reptiles are particularly likely to hold Salmonella, and people should always wash their hands right away after handling a reptile, even if the reptile is healthy. Adults should also be careful that children wash their hands after handling a reptile.
Download Reptile Safety Tips Poster (PDF) (73K)


Are infected persons contagious?

An infected person can carry Salmonella several days to many months. Persons who have been treated with oral antibiotics tend to carry Salmonella longer than others.

What can a person do to prevent salmonellosis?

Food preparation, storage and cooking
  • Cook chicken, ground beef and eggs thoroughly before eating.
  • Do not drink raw (unpasteurized) milk or other unpasteurized dairy products.
  • Do not eat food with raw eggs or raw (unpasteurized) milk in it.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after food preparation.
  • Refrigerate foods right away; don't let them sit at room temperature.
Ill Persons
  • Restrict ill persons from food handling. Persons who have salmonellosis should not prepare food, or serve food or beverages for others until they show that they no longer are carrying the bacteria.
Pet Safety
  • Wash your hands after contact with animal solid waste.
  • Wash your hands after handling any birds or reptiles.

If you think you may have Salmonella it is a good idea to contact your doctor or health clinic for information on where you can get tested. If you can't afford a doctor and/or are not currently on a health plan or insurance, call 1-800-SAFENET (723-3638) for information on low-cost clinics near you.

Issued by: The Oregon Health Services
Date: April, 1997; June 2001
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