Salmonellosis

Reviewed: September 2017

What is salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella, which generally affects the intestines (bowels/gut) and occasionally the bloodstream. It is one of the more common causes of diarrheal illness with several thousand cases occurring in New York State each year. Most cases occur in the summer months and can be seen as single cases or outbreaks (when two or more people become ill from the same source).

Who gets salmonellosis?

Any person can get salmonellosis, but it is diagnosed more often in infants and children. Young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems (for example people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or a transplant) are the most likely to have severe infections.

How is salmonellosis spread?

The infection is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or water or by contact with people or animals infected with Salmonella. Salmonella can be found in raw or undercooked meats and eggs, raw (unpasteurized) milk and cheese products, and produce. Foods can also be contaminated by Salmonella bacteria during preparation or processing. Contact with infected animals, especially poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks), swine (pigs or hogs), cattle (cows), rodents (mice or rats), and pets, such as reptiles (iguanas, snakes, lizards, and turtles), chicks, ducklings, birds, dogs, and cats can spread infection. Previous outbreaks of Salmonella in New York State have been associated with peanut butter, frozen potpies, eggs, pet foods, and turtles.

What are the symptoms of salmonellosis and when do they appear?

People with salmonellosis may experience mild or severe diarrhea (loose stool/poop), stomach cramps, fever, and occasionally vomiting. Bloodstream infections can occur and be quite serious, particularly in the very young or elderly. Some people infected experience no symptoms at all. The symptoms generally appear several hours to three days after contact with Salmonella bacteria.

How is salmonellosis diagnosed?

Salmonellosis is diagnosed when Salmonella bacteria are found in a stool sample.

What is the treatment for salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis usually goes away in five to seven days and often does not require treatment unless the infected person becomes severely dehydrated (loss of water in the body causing weakness or dizziness) or the infection spreads from the intestines to other parts of the body. Those with severe diarrhea (loose stool/poop) may require rehydration, often with intravenous fluids. Antibiotics are usually not necessary unless the infection spreads from the intestines.

Does past infection with salmonellosis make a person immune?

People can be reinfected with salmonellosis if they come into contact with the bacteria again.

Do infected people need to be isolated or excluded from work or school?

Most infected people may return to work or school when their diarrhea (loose stool/poop) has stopped. Food workers, health care personnel, and children in daycare must obtain approval from local or state health department before returning to their routine activities. An infected person can carry the bacteria for a few days or several months. People who have been treated with oral antibiotics and younger people tend to carry the bacteria longer than others.

How can salmonellosis be prevented?

  1. Always handle raw poultry, beef, and pork accordingly:
    • Wrap fresh meats in plastic bags at the market to prevent blood and juices from dripping on other foods. Refrigerate foods promptly; and do not keep food at room temperature.
    • Never place cooked food on an unwashed surface that previously held raw beef, poultry, pork, fish, or seafood.
    • Cutting boards and counters used for beef, poultry, pork, fish, or seafood preparation should be washed immediately after use to prevent cross contamination with other foods.
    • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meats. While the juice color will usually change from red to gray when the meat is fully cooked, it is not a reliable test to assure it is safe to eat.
    • Always check the temperature with a meat thermometer. Foods that reach the temperatures listed below or higher are fully cooked.

      Food Temperature
      Chicken 165° F
      Hamburger 160° F
      Pork 150° F
      Hot dogs 140° F
      Leftovers 165° F
      Eggs 145° F
      Other foods 140° F
    • To check the temperature of the meat, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, which is the least cooked part. For checking hot dogs, go from the end of the hot dog to the center. Be careful not to pass through the meat and touch the cooking surface or you will get a false high temperature reading.
    • Further advice on food preparation and disease prevention is available at Barbecue Food Safety Tips
  2. Avoid eating raw eggs or undercooking foods containing raw eggs. Raw eggs may be unrecognized in some foods such as homemade hollandaise sauce, Caesar and other homemade salad dressings, tiramisu, homemade ice cream, homemade mayonnaise, homemade eggnog, cookie dough, and frosting.
  3. Avoid drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk.
  4. Wash fruits and vegetables under running water before eating.
  5. Encourage careful hand washing with soap and water before and after food preparation.
  6. Wash hands (especially children) with soap and water immediately after handling reptiles, having contact with pet feces (poop), or handling pet food or treats.
  7. Food handlers may not work while sick with salmonellosis.
  8. Do not keep reptiles as pets in homes of those with weakened immune systems (for example people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or a transplant) or young children.
  9. Salmonella carried in the intestines of chicks and ducklings contaminates their environment and the entire surface of the animal. Children can be exposed to the bacteria by simply holding, cuddling, or kissing the birds. Children should not handle baby chicks or other young birds. Everyone should immediately wash their hands after touching birds, including baby chicks and ducklings, or their environment.