Everyone has heard of the term salmonella, but many people are unsure of what it actually means, and more specifically, what causes it.
While we’re all pretty certain uncooked foods like egg whites and chicken are a one way ticket to a churning stomach, there are countless other causes that are more unknown. In good news, there are effective steps you can follow to prevent yourself from becoming sick from salmonella.
What is salmonella?
The term salmonella refers to a group of bacteria that cause Salmonella infection in the intestinal tract. Some examples of Salmonella infection include typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, and enteric fever.
What causes salmonella?
Ingesting the Salmonella bacteria is what makes humans sick.
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of birds, animals, and humans, with majority of human infections being caused by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by faeces.
If you have salmonella, the bacteria has been transferred to your mouth from:
- Contaminated food, water or your hands
- Another person’s hand or a contaminated surface
- Animal faeces
According to Medical News Today, foods most commonly infected are:
- Uncooked meat, seafood, and poultry: contamination is most prevalent during the slaughtering process, and harvesting seafood in contaminated waters.
- Uncooked eggs: infected chickens produce infected eggs. Raw eggs are also found in mayonnaise and homemade sauces. When purchasing eggs, it is best to double-check they come from a supplier that keeps them refrigerated, and to store them at a maximum of four degrees Celsius. Any cracked or dirty eggs should be thrown away.
- Fruits and vegetables: these may be contaminated if they have been washed in contaminated water. They can also be contaminated if a person handles raw meat then touches the fruit or vegetable without washing their hands.
Lack of hygiene and those that house pet reptiles or amphibians are also more prone to infection.
There are thousands of subtypes of Salmonella bacteria, but approximately only 12 make people sick, usually with gastroenteritis (more commonly known as ‘gastro’).
According to healthdirect, symptoms tend to appear between six hours and seven days after you’ve been infected and may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Headache and dizziness
- Stomach cramps and muscle pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood or mucus in stools
Some people may also experience joint pain (reactive arthritis), and this can last for months or years, which can turn into chronic arthritis.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection normally disappear without treatment after around a week. Some suggested forms of treatment include:
- Staying hydrated: you should drink lots of fluids such as water or oral dehydration drinks from the chemist.
- Antibiotics: most people who recover within a week won’t need antibiotics, however they may be prescribed for young children or older people.
- Antimotility drugs: while they can help stop diarrhoea and reduce cramping, they may also cause diarrhoea to last longer. It is best to avoid medicine to prevent the worsening of symptoms, unless it is recommended by your doctor.
While majority of people completely recover from symptoms after four to seven days without treatment, those who experience severe diarrhoea will need to seek hospital treatment.
For babies and young children, you should consult a doctor immediately after symptoms arise.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms, you should avoid contact with other people for at least 24 hours after your vomiting and diarrhoea stops. You can actually spread it for as long as you carry the bacteria, which may be months after you stop experiencing any symptoms.
The number one way to prevention Salmonella infection begins with good hygiene.
Washing hands frequently with soap and warm water or regularly using a hand sanitizer is essential, and especially crucial for the following conditions:
- Before preparing or eating food
- After using the bathroom
- After gardening
- After touching pets and animals
- After touching public surfaces
- After changing a baby’s nappy
When it comes to handling and consuming foods:
- Cook food through, especially meats and eggs
- Ensure all cooking utensils and work surfaces are kept clean
- Store raw foods in the fridge on the shelves below ready-to-eat foods
- Keep cooked and raw foods separate
- Use different cutting boards for meats and vegetables
- Regularly wash kitchen towels
- Avoid drinking untreated water from streams, rivers, and lakes
Healthdirect also warns that salmonella infections are most common in Asia, the Pacific Islands, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. If you travel to these parts of the world, it is best to avoid foods such as salads, washed or cut fruit, raw or cold seafood, cold meat, and drinks with ice in them. You should also opt for bottled water for drinking and brushing your teeth.
Head here for more information on salmonella.
If you are experiencing symptoms and are concerned about your health, visit your GP. You can also call the healthdirect helpline at any time on 1800 022 222 for free advice and reassurance.
For more on this topic, a food poisoning expert reveals the six foods he never eats. Plus, this is how to tell if your food is actually off.
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