What Happens If You Get Salmonella?

Reviewed on 1/13/2021

What is salmonella?

Typically, symptoms of salmonella are present anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days after the initial infection. If you have salmonella, you will most likely experience bouts of diarrhea.
Typically, symptoms of salmonella are present anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days after the initial infection. If you have salmonella, you will most likely experience bouts of diarrhea.

Salmonella is a bacteria that makes people ill. There are many different kinds of salmonella bacteria. Animals like chickens, cows, reptiles, and pigs carry the kind that makes humans sick.

Most kinds of salmonella bacteria cause an illness called salmonellosis. You can get this infection when you come in contact with the bacteria. This can happen when it gets passed from person to person, through food, or through contact with animals.

Since salmonellosis comes from bacteria, anyone can contract it. However, children under five, adults over 65, and those with compromised immune systems are more likely to contract the most serious infections. Salmonella infections mostly affect the intestinal tract but can sometimes spread to other parts of the body or the bloodstream.

Signs and symptoms of salmonella

Typically, symptoms of salmonella present anywhere from 6 hours to 6 days after the initial infection. Symptoms of salmonella usually last between 2 and 7 days. People may experience a variety of symptoms, including the most typical ones.

Diarrhea

If you have salmonella, you will most likely experience bouts of diarrhea. Sometimes, the diarrhea may even contain blood in the stool. Salmonella bacteria get expelled through the feces.

Fever

Another sign of salmonella is a fever that accompanies diarrhea. As with many other kinds of infections, the salmonella bacteria can trigger a fever in their host.

Stomach cramps

Stomach cramps are another sign of salmonella. Salmonella bacteria settle into the intestinal tract, which can cause pain in the stomach or abdomen.

Nausea and vomiting

If you have salmonellosis, you will likely experience nausea and vomiting. Similar to diarrhea, this is a way for your body to try to expel the bacteria that are causing the infection.

Headache

Lastly, many people who contract salmonella also report having a headache. This can be mild to severe.

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Types of salmonella

There are many kinds of salmonella bacteria. However, there are three main kinds that we know make people sick.

Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is the infection that’s caused by contracting salmonella bacteria through food, contact with animals, or some human contact. This is the most common type of illness that people experience from salmonella bacteria.

Salmonella typhi

A rarer form of salmonella infection is salmonella typhi. This kind of bacteria is only found in humans. This bacteria can pass from one person to the next through contaminated water or food. An infection from salmonella typhi can cause typhoid fever, which is a very serious illness.

If you have this infection, antibiotics can help you get better. However, once you have salmonella typhi, you will continue to carry this bacteria in your body. This bacteria can spread to others through feces or contaminated food or water.

Salmonella paratyphi

Another rare form of salmonella is salmonella paratyphi. Like salmonella typhi, this bacteria can pass from one person to the next. It causes paratyphoid fever, an illness that is similar to typhoid fever.

Causes of salmonella

There are several ways that you can contract a salmonella infection.

Eating raw or undercooked food

Many people get salmonella infections from eating food that’s raw, contaminated, or undercooked, especially animal products. This includes:

  • Meat like poultry, pork, and beef
  • Eggs
  • Unwashed fruits
  • Unwashed vegetables
  • Unwashed raw alfalfa or other sprouts

These foods can have salmonella contamination from their environment. Fruits and veggies can become contaminated if animals left infected fecal matter in the soil that the plants grew in. Meat and eggs can pick up salmonella either from the animals’ intestinal tracts or from fecal contamination.

Luckily, when food is washed and cooked properly, the chances of contracting salmonella are smaller. Proper cooking kills off salmonella bacteria.

Handling pets

Reptiles like lizards, turtles, and snakes are known to carry salmonella. If you have these animals as pets, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling them.

To lower your risk of a salmonella infection, try to avoid touching any reptiles’ feces, and immediately wash your hands if you do. These are not safe pets to have around infants and babies, even if the reptiles are healthy.

Contact with feces

Another cause of salmonella is coming into contact with feces, whether animal or human, that contains the bacteria.

If you come into contact with microscopic traces of feces in places like public toilets, faucets, or diapers, there’s a possibility that you may have picked up salmonella. You should wash your hands immediately.

If you come into contact with animal feces, wash your hands to prevent the risk of salmonellosis.

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When to see a doctor for salmonella

If your symptoms last more than a few days, especially diarrhea, you should make an appointment to see a doctor. It’s also a good idea to see your doctor if you develop new symptoms or if they get worse. Your doctor can run tests and decide the best way to treat your infection.

Diagnosis for salmonella

Since many illnesses have the same symptoms as salmonella, your doctor will likely ask for a stool sample to confirm the infection. More serious infections require further testing to find the specific germ responsible for making you sick. This way, your doctor can prescribe the right antibiotic to kill off the infection.

Treatments for salmonella

Most salmonella infections clear up on their own within a week without medication. Sometimes, doctors will prescribe you an anti-vomiting or anti-nausea medication to help relieve your symptoms until the infection passes. Infections that cause typhoid fever or paratyphoid fever need antibiotics.

There are several things that you can do at home to relieve your symptoms. Be sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration from diarrhea and vomiting. 

You should keep your hands clean and not prepare food for others while you are sick.

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References
Cedars-Sinai: "Salmonella Infections."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Questions and Answers: Salmonella."

Healthy WA: "Salmonella infection."

KidsHealth from Nemours: "Salmonella Infections."

Minnesota Department of Health: "Causes and Symptoms of Salmonellosis."

North Dakota Department of Health: "Salmonellosis."

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