What Is Salmonella?
Salmonella bacteria are the most frequently reported cause of foodborne illness. Every year, an estimated 42,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since sufferers don’t always seek treatment, a notable number of milder cases aren’t diagnosed or reported. Therefore, the figure may be up to 29 times higher, making salmonellosis the second most frequent foodborne illness in the country.
Salmonellosis, the infection caused by salmonella bacteria, often results in acute gastroenteritis, an illness that usually results in diarrhea and/or vomiting due to severe inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by the bacteria. Infected individuals typically begin to experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 8 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. The diarrhea, which may be bloody, may start suddenly and without warning. Other symptoms occur less frequently, including headache, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, and fatigue.
Illness may last anywhere between 4 to 7 days so it is important you speak with a salmonella lawyer as soon as you are able. There are over 2,500 serotypes of salmonella that can cause salmonellosis, though three serotypes cause over half of all infections:
- Salmonella Enteritidis
- Salmonella Newport
- Salmonella Typhimurium
- Salmonella Mbandaka
How Do I Know If I Have a Salmonella Infection?
It takes only 15-20 bacteria to cause a human being to develop a case of salmonellosis. It may not seem like very much, but the bacteria multiplies at an alarming rate, resulting in a sudden burst of symptoms that include, but are not limited to:
- Gastroenteritis – this inflames your intestines or stomach, disrupting regular bowel movements and digestion. Gastroenteritis manifests itself through diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea. These symptoms appear in as little as six hours after infection and last up to twelve days.
- Bacteremia – instead of attacking your intestines, the bacteria circulates within your bloodstream, leading to infections in areas of the body other than the initial site of contamination.
- Typhoid fever – though rare in the United States, typhoid fever still accounts for an estimated 8 percent of all salmonella outbreaks. Pain, fever, abdominal tenderness, bloody stools, and severe diarrhea are primary symptoms of typhoid fever.
A definitive diagnosis cannot be not made from symptoms alone. A stool sample from the patient must test positive for salmonella infection. Laboratory technicians then uniquely identify the salmonella culture.
Many times, doctors will not order the test unless asked by the patient, which contributes to the reason that about only 3 percent of cases are officially diagnosed and reported. If you believe you came down with food poisoning and suspect negligence, either on the part of a restaurant or manufacturer, reach out to a food poisoning lawyer with experience in salmonella cases.
How Does Salmonella Spread?
Salmonella outbreaks can happen at local, regional, or nationwide levels. The size of an outbreak is dependent upon the agent that caused it – the pathogen, as well as the origin of the contaminated food and the number of people who consumed it. Though salmonella can spread from person to person, the primary channels of transmission can be categorized as follows:
Transmission of the bacteria to humans most commonly occurs when people unknowingly eat foods contaminated with animal feces.
The bacteria also is found in pets’ feces, particularly those with diarrhea, and sufficient hand-washing is critical to avoid illness. Reptiles are known to be particularly good hosts for the pathogen; therefore, experts strongly recommend thorough hand-washing immediately after handling any reptile, regardless of the animal’s health.
Salmonella can survive on raw meat and poultry if the product does not reach certain minimum internal temperatures. The bacteria can also be spread by cross-contamination (i.e. when juices drip from raw meats stored above ready-to-eat foods, such as salads, in the refrigerator).
Despite the historical association of the bacteria with meat and poultry, multiple recent outbreaks have been linked to other food sources, including fresh produce. The organism also survives well on low-moisture foods such as spices, which have been sources of large, widespread outbreaks.
Past outbreaks have been linked to a wide range of products, including eggs, cream-filled desserts, yeast, spices, cucumbers, poultry, cake mixes, tuna, dried gelatin, sprouts, cocoa, coconuts, peanut butter (multiple times), and various other fruits and vegetables such as cantaloupes, tomatoes, and peppers.
Cooking often involves performing multiple tasks at the same time. A food worker may fail to wash their hands after touching a raw ingredient that contains salmonella before touching another food that won’t be cooked. For example, someone cooking an omelet may get a small amount of egg yolk on their hands and fail to wash them before sprinkling cheese on top of the finished meal.
In addition, contamination can occur when an infected employee – even one who might not be showing symptoms of salmonellosis yet – handles food.
This illness does not discriminate. The channels of transmission are limitless, infecting individuals of all ethnicities, age groups, and backgrounds. Children under five, individuals with compromised immune systems, and the elderly are generally the most susceptible to salmonella infections. Most cases result from consuming contaminated food.
Since the bacteria thrive in the intestines of many animals, meats are the most commonly affected foods. This includes dairy products, such as eggs. Someone infected with salmonella may even contaminate the food when preparing it for someone else, inadvertently spreading the illness. Furthermore, an estimated 10 percent of household pets carry the pathogen, which can cause a salmonellosis outbreak.
How Can I Prevent Salmonella Infection?
The most effective way to protect yourself and your family from salmonella is to properly prepare your food and maintain good hygiene. Washing your hands frequently, cooking raw foods thoroughly before eating, avoiding raw drinks, and keeping a clean house – especially if you have pets – are paramount to preventing a salmonella infection.
Even if you take the steps necessary to protect your family from infection, contaminated food can still pose a serious threat. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been infected with salmonella, it’s critical to contact your healthcare provider and receive care immediately. Once medical care has been administered, consult with a salmonella lawyer to learn your available legal options as you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
Click here to learn about other types of food poisoning