Have you or someone you know ever had food poisoning? If the answer is yes, there is a possibility that it was caused by a salmonella infection. Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is found in the gastrointestinal tracts of domestic and wild animals, including insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. It is estimated that this organism is responsible for 2-4 million foodborne infections in the United States yearly, and 30% of all deaths associated with food poisoning. With this in mind, it is important to understand where the infection comes from, what the symptoms look like, how you can prevent it, when to see a doctor, and ways to treat a salmonella infection once you have it.
How Salmonella is spread
Salmonella infections are always spread by ingestion of the bacteria. Eating food that is contaminated with the bacteria can cause the infection. The bacteria can either be within the food or the food may be contaminated by handling. For instance, one in 10,000 egg yolks may be infected with salmonella. It has also been found in or on meats, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as processed and packaged foods. Another way that you might ingest salmonella is by touching animals such as chickens, ducks, or turtles, and then touching your food or your mouth before washing your hands.
What Are the Symptoms?
While salmonella infections are common and can result in very uncomfortable symptoms, they are not serious for most people. However, anyone with a poor immune system, such as people with HIV or AIDS, cancer, or sickle cell disease, those who have had an organ transplant, those taking steroids or other medications that weaken the immune system, and the very young and very old could get extremely sick.Symptoms often start 8 to 72 hours after exposure to the bacteria. If you contract a salmonella infection, you will most likely have a fever for two to three days, as well as fatigue, chills, headaches and achiness. You may also experience nausea and vomiting. Most likely you will experience belly cramping and watery or bloody diarrhea. If it is truly a salmonella infection, the diarrhea should not last more than 10 days. Rarely, and in the worse cases, the bacteria may move to the blood stream and cause a very serious infection.
How Can I Prevent a Salmonella Infection?
The only way to prevent getting or spreading a salmonella infection is to prevent exposure. Wash your hands frequently, especially after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, touching any animal, taking out the trash or handling raw food. If you think you have an infection, stay home to protect others from catching the illness from you. Because this is a foodborne illness, adhering to food safety precautions will go a long way to preventing infection. Only use pasteurized milk products, and wash fruits and vegetables carefully before eating them. Meat and seafood should be cooked well done and eggs should be cooked to a firm yoke. It is important to also store food at the proper temperature. Keep your refrigerator colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and your freezer below 0 degrees. Also make sure to defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator, and not on the counter. Finally, be meticulous about your food preparation area. Wash utensils, cutting boards, counters, and hands that have touched raw meat, with soap and water. And don’t “taste” your food before it is cooked.
When Should I See a Doctor?
Most salmonella infections will go away on their own, however, there are situations when you should see your doctor. First of all, if you know you have a weak immune system from illness or medications, you should always seek medical advice for the symptoms you would expect with a salmonella infection. However, if you are otherwise healthy, you should see your doctor if you are unable to keep food or drink down due to vomiting. Additionally, if you have a fever higher than 100.4, along with abdominal cramping and diarrhea, if you notice blood in your stool or your vomit, if you have diarrhea longer than 10 days, if you have severe cramping, or if you begin to feel weak or dizzy, you should see your doctor.
How is Salmonella Treated?
Most salmonella infections are treated symptomatically. In other words, rest, drinking plenty of fluids (especially those rich in electrolytes), and eating small meals with minimal fat will usually get you through the worst of it, leaving you feeling better after 3 to 5 days. If you do not improve with these simple measures, your doctor will probably start you on antibiotics. If this is the case, make sure to take the medications as directed and to finish the entire prescription, even if you are feeling better after a few days. Finally, in the worst-case scenario, your doctor may need to put you in the hospital for IV antibiotics, although this is the exception and not the rule. The point to take with you is, if rest, fluids, and a restricted diet do not help you feel better, or if you have a weakened immune system, or if you have any of the previously mentioned symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor for treatment.
If you are afraid you may have food poisoning, or have any other questions about foodborne illnesses or how to prevent them, come in to see one of our highly trained, board certified medical staff at Patient Care Now Urgent Care. For more information call our Fairless Hills Urgent Care Center at (267) 202-6433 today. We are here to help!