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Food poisoning can be caused by a number of organisms, and salmonella is a common one. It may not cause any symptoms, but it can sometimes make people extremely uncomfortable.
While most people sickened by salmonella recover without medical attention, a salmonella infection can cause serious illness in vulnerable populations such as kids younger than 5, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
What is salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals.
Food can become contaminated by salmonella through the feces of animals who are carrying the bacteria. Salmonella then spreads through water used to grow food, from hands or equipment used to process food or from utensils tainted with the bacteria that touch the food.
It’s also sometimes found in raw eggs or raw meat. It’s one of the most common causes of food poisoning. Infections can be prevented by thorough cooking and clean-up (and paying attention to product recalls).
What are the symptoms of a salmonella infection?
Within 12-72 hours after ingesting salmonella, most people begin to have diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps and vomiting.
The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment.
Kids younger than 5, older adults and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to have severe infections that could require hospitalization.
When to call a doctor
For children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents call their child’s pediatrician if their child’s condition does not improve within 2 to 3 days of symptoms appearing, if there is blood in the child’s stools or if the child is dehydrated (symptoms include crying but producing no tears and less frequent urination).
Anyone sickened by salmonella should continue to drink fluids to maintain hydration (even if it’s difficult).
Most adults eventually feel better without medical attention. Watch for symptoms of a severe infection, particularly in older adults and those with weakened immune systems, such as symptoms that do not improve after several days, high fever, bloody stool or dehydration. Adults should see a doctor if the infection is severe.
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