Salmonellosis, originating from the Salmonella enterica bacterium, is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. In the United States, Salmonella serotypes Typhimurium and Enteritidis are the most common. Altogether, the various strains of Salmonella-related food poisoning can result in a number of different adverse health effects, including rare instances of life-threatening conditions or complications.
Salmonella poisoning is the second most common cause of intestinal infection in the United States. It is estimated that over 1 million people contract Salmonella annually, and of those, nearly 20,000 require hospitalization. Approximately 400 deaths are attributed to Salmonella poisoning each year.
Causes of Salmonellosis
Generally, salmonellosis occurs when a person eats food contaminated with animal or human feces containing Salmonella bacteria. Food that is affected by Salmonella bacteria can become contaminated during any point during the food cycle, most commonly during food processing or handling procedures.
Food may also become contaminated from an infected human who handles food with unwashed hands, a prevalent public health concern forcing food establishments to post “Employees must wash hands” and similar messages in restrooms and others areas to ease customers’ concerns.
It is also possible for pets to carry Salmonella bacteria, particularly in animals that suffer from episodes of diarrhea. Pet owners who do not wash their hands after coming into contact with infected feces are at risk for contracting the illness. Certain animals, including chickens, ducklings, and reptiles, are statistically more likely to carry Salmonella bacteria than are others. People who own such animals should be certain to wash their hands after handling these animals to prevent potential spreading of illness.
Of all foods, milk, eggs, beef, and poultry are most likely to become infected with Salmonella bacteria. Fruits, vegetables, and other foods may also become contaminated via cross-contamination. One example of cross-contamination is when non-infected food is placed upon an infected surface, such as a cutting board that was used to prepare infected food.
There are two divisions of Salmonella: non-typhoidal and typhoidal. Non-typhoidal is the more commonly contracted type, which may be contracted by both humans and animals. Strains of non-typhoidal salmonellosis include Salmonella Javiana and Salmonella Enteritidis. Salmonella Typhi is rare and is contracted only by humans.
Symptoms of Salmonellosis
Salmonellosis has broad range of symptoms, which generally includes abdominal cramping, fever, and diarrhea. It is common for these symptoms to appear within 12 to 72 hours after initial contraction, with symptom duration usually lasting between four to seven days.
Additional symptoms of salmonellosis include fever, bloody stools and/or diarrhea, vomiting, body aches, and headache. These symptoms are less frequent in nature, although they are more prevalent in demographics more at risk for Salmonella poisoning.
Salmonella Typhi may include symptoms that mirror typhoid fever, such as abdominal pain, lethargy, coughing, muscle weakness, coughing, nose bleeds, delirium, and inflamed organs. Fever as a result of Salmonella Typhi can exceed temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a particularly life-threatening condition that is considered a medical emergency.
Certain demographics are at higher risk for potential complications stemming from Salmonella poisoning; these include young children and adults over the age of 65. Such complications that arise in these demographics include reactive arthritis and focal infection.
Reactive arthritis occurs in 2 to 15 percent of those infected, with symptoms that include inflammation of the eyes, joints, or reproductive or urinary organs. Generally, these symptoms appear approximately 18 days after infection.
Focal infection occurs as a result of Salmonella bacteria penetrating bodily tissue, and may cause illnesses such as endocarditis or arthritis. Endocarditis is a potentially life-threatening illness that occurs when germs infect the inner lining of the heart. This occurs when bacteria spread through the bloodstream and attach to the damaged areas of the organ. Untreated, endocarditis can damage or destroy heart valves and cause life-threatening health conditions. Such an adverse reaction is rare in healthy patients, and occurs only in instances of typhoidal Salmonella.
Treatment of Salmonellosis
After an infection period of three to seven days, most people will naturally recover from the illness. In such cases, no medical intervention or special attention is required. Severe dehydration, a result of excessive vomiting or diarrhea, may require intravenous (IV) administration of fluids.
At-risk patients, such as infants under the age of three months, may be prescribed antibiotics. Additionally, patients who experience typhoid fever due to Salmonella poisoning may be treated with antibiotics over a two-week period.
It is altogether rare for victims of Salmonella poisoning to require medical intervention. Common symptoms of the illness—vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain—generally subside as the body naturally eliminates the toxin.