What is Salmonella and why does it make me sick?

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(Meredith/CDC) – We've all been told not to eat foods contaminated with Salmonella. But why? What exactly is Salmonella and how does it make us sick?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done quite a bit of research on the topic, and here’s what they discovered.

What is Salmonella?

To put it simply, Salmonella is a bacterium that makes people sick. Salmonella is the name of a group of bacteria and is one of the most common causes of food poisoning in the United States.

Usually, symptoms (listed below) last 4-7 days and most people get better without treatment. But, Salmonella can cause more serious illness in older adults, infants, and persons with chronic diseases, according to FoodSafety.gov.

Salmonella was discovered by an American scientist named Dr. Salmon and has been known to cause illness for more than 125 years. The illness people get from a Salmonella infection is called salmonellosis.

How deadly is Salmonella?

Every year, Salmonella is estimated to cause one million foodborne illnesses in the United States, with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment.

However, in some persons, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.

What does Salmonella do to the human body?

Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea/bloody diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Fever 

Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including:

  • Arterial infections 
  • Endocarditis
  • Arthritis
  • Muscle pain
  • Eye irritation
  • Urinary tract symptoms

Anyone exhibiting these signs after having contact with potentially contaminated foods should contact their healthcare providers.

What does Salmonella do to my pets?

In some cases, some pet foods can be contaminated by Salmonella. If your pet starts showing the following symptoms, they may have an infection:

  • Lethargic
  • Have diarrhea/bloody diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Vomiting.
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal pain

Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

Preventing Salmonella

The CDC has provided a list of tips for you to minimize your chances of getting Salmonella:

  • Cook poultry, ground beef, and eggs thoroughly. Do not eat or drink foods containing raw eggs, or raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  • If you are served undercooked meat, poultry or eggs in a restaurant, don't hesitate to send it back to the kitchen for further cooking.
  • Wash hands, kitchen work surfaces, and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry.
  • Be particularly careful with foods prepared for infants, the elderly, and the immunocompromised.
  • Wash hands with soap after handling reptiles, birds, or baby chicks, and after contact with pet feces.
  • Avoid direct or even indirect contact between reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes) and infants or immunocompromised persons.
  • Don't work with raw poultry or meat, and an infant (e.g., feed, change diaper) at the same time.
  • Mother's milk is the safest food for young infants. Breastfeeding prevents salmonellosis and many other health problems.


Information for this article was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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