Salmonella symptoms strike when you are infected with salmonella bacteria. This usually happens through food poisoning although there are other ways you can be infected like through contact with animals. The severity of your symptoms will vary depending on a number of things.
There are at least 2,500 different strains of salmonella. Most cause the same set of symptoms but how ill you are will depend on how big a dose of salmonella bacteria you ingest, how healthy you are and which strain you come up against. Some strains will cause severe illness and some a milder form.
Every year 1.2 million people in the USA become ill through being infected with salmonella bacteria, approximately 23,000 of these unlucky people are so ill that they have to be treated in hospital and 450 people will die from their infection.
In the UK approximately 10,000 people each year are diagnosed with gastroenteritis (stomach upsets) caused by salmonella.
We have to remember that many people will have this type of infection without having a diagnosis or it being reported so their cases will not appear in the figures.
If you have been infected with Salmonella you will start to have symptoms 12-72 hours after coming into contact with the bacteria.
If you start to suffer the typical salmonella symptoms then think back to what and where you have eaten just before that time period.
Most people will recover from their infection within a week and will have no further problems but some people will go on to have a disturbed bowel function with persistent diarrhea for many months and some go on to develop irritable bowel syndrome.
It is possible to develop temporary lactose intolerance following a salmonella infection. This means that you will develop bowel symptoms like bloating, gas and pain after eating dairy products, especially milk.
Sometimes the infection can spread to other parts of the body like the gall bladder, joints, the brain or the blood stream. This is very rare however.
Reiter's syndrome or reactive arthritis is an unusual complication which causes arthritis (pain and swelling in the joints), inflammation of the eye and urinary tract, rashes on the soles of the feet and palms of the hands and ulcers, especially on the penis. It is more common in men.
As we have seen some people will need to be treated in hospital but most people will recover from their infection in 4-7 days with no special treatment if they make sure that they do not get dehydrated.
There are some groups of people who are more at risk. The very young, the elderly, pregnant women and people already suffering from other chronic illnesses are more vulnerable.
If you are taking medication which suppresses your immune system, for example if you have had an organ transplant then you are especially at risk.
The main treatment to combat salmonella symptoms is to make sure that you drink clear fluids. Clear broth and sports drinks like Gatorade and Lucozade sport are good because they replace lost salts as well as fluid. Children should have oral replacement fluids like Pedialyte or Dioralyte.
You can eat a normal diet as soon as you feel well enough but eating bland foods or the brat diet for 24-48 hours is a good idea. Children and babies should be given their normal diet with additional fluids.
Normally this is enough and your body will heal and recover. If you do not start to get better in 2-3 days, if you have blood in your diarrhea, a high temperature, severe abdominal pain or your salmonella poisoning symptoms are worsening then seek medical attention because sometimes antibiotics are needed.
If the person with salmonella symptoms is very young, elderly, pregnant or vulnerable due to other illnesses or a weakened immune system then seek advice sooner.
Antibiotics are only used if the bacteria has entered the blood stream or the infection is very severe as their use can cause the bacteria to stay in your system longer.
Anti-diarrheal medications like loperamide (Imodium) can reduce trips to the bathroom but they often also prolong the infection.
Do not go to work or school or any other place where people gather while you still have symptoms as salmonella infection can be passed from one person to another through contact with towels, toilet handles or anything else touched by the infected person if they have not washed their hands carefully.
The most common ways to get infected and uf are to eat contaminated food or touch contaminated animals. Think back to what you have been doing in the last few days.
If you have been to a restaurant or catered event with other people then contact them to see if they are ill. Likewise if you have visited a petting farm or zoo.
If you suspect that you may have been infected in this way or through eating take away food then report your worries to the correct authorities so that they can be investigated.
If you have recently returned from traveling abroad then you may have a less common strain of salmonella bacteria.
You may be suffering from classic salmonella symptoms but these symptoms can also be a sign of other illnesses so how do you know if you have a salmonella infection?
The only way to know for sure is to have a stool sample analyzed in the laboratory.
Any food can potentially be infected as poor food handling can cause cross contamination where the bacteria from one food gets onto another. There have even been some outbreaks in unusual foods like chocolate but some foods are more likely to cause salmonella symptoms than others.
It is important to note that you cannot tell if a food is contaminated by looking at it or smelling it. Foods carrying salmonella bacteria look and smell completely normal.
The foods which most commonly cause salmonella symptoms are:
I have to say here that my husband would be horrified at my suggestion of never eating raw egg products and cooking eggs very well as he does not like his food well done but he is fit and healthy and not in a vulnerable group. He loves to eat steak tartare for example (chopped raw steak with a raw egg) however even he would never eat underdone chicken.
Look out for schemes which exist in some countries which are designed to prevent outbreaks of salmonella poisoning symptoms - like the British Lion scheme in the UK where eggs are stamped with a lion if the laying hen has been vaccinated against salmonella.
Many people think that because salmonella bacteria is normally found in animals that if you are vegetarian you are safe and will not develop symptoms of salmonella. Unfortunately this is not the case. Cross contamination is very common.
The chef only has to prepare the chicken and then the salad without washing his hands properly and the salad will be contaminated with enough bacteria to cause salmonella symptoms.
Many people like to buy organic products because they consider them to be healthier.
Unfortunately there have been cases where the fertilizer used to promote healthy growth is animal manure (chemicals not being allowed on an organic farm). This can cause the crops to be contaminated with salmonella bacteria if the manure has come from infected livestock.
If at any point in the food chain the food is not stored properly it can be cross contaminated. For example raw meat should always be stored separately from other products but many refrigerators do not have optimum organization.
Sprouts such as alfalfa have been particularly connected with salmonella outbreaks because the seeds are often contaminated and the warm and humid conditions needed to grow the sprouts are exactly what the salmonella bacteria like.
Some animals carry salmonella bacteria in their intestines without coming to any harm but they can pass on the infection to humans.
Reptiles are notorious for this. Pet snakes, terrapins, turtles, lizards, frogs, geckos, and other types of reptiles very often carry salmonella and handling them or touching the water or environment they live in can put you at risk of developing symptoms of salmonella.
Do not let children under five, the elderly, or people with long term illnesses near reptiles. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching them.
Other pets like small rodents especially hamsters can also pass on this infections.
It is also possible to catch salmonella after touching farm animals or their bedding or enclosures. This is especially true of chickens, baby chicks and ducklings but other farm animals can also put you at risk. If you or your children visit a farm wash your hands carefully afterwards and do not put your hands near your mouth.
The hedgehog is the wild animal most associated with carrying salmonella.
It is not always easy to know if your salmonella symptoms are actually caused by a salmonella infection but if the symptoms fit and you are not getting better quickly then please seek medical attention and get tested.
If poor hygiene practices in the food chain are discovered then they need to be fixed so that other people are protected.
Please see the page Diarrhea Treatment for Adults, Children and Babies for more information if you have diarrhea symptoms.
Chocolate mousse by Romainhk https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Chocolate_Mousse.png
Terrapin by CITES https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diamondback_terrapin#/media/File:Diamondback_Terrapin._Taken_by_CITES.jpeg