Digestive Health

Updated 06 August 2014

Salmonella infection

Salmonellosis, or salmonella, is one of the most common food borne diseases.


Salmonellosis, or salmonella, is one of the most common food borne diseases.

Salmonella may occur in small, contained outbreaks in the general population or in large outbreaks in hospitals, restaurants, or institutions housing children or the elderly.

People with Aids are particularly vulnerable to salmonellosis, often suffering from recurring episodes.


Many types of Salmonella bacteria cause salmonellosis in animals and people.

An antibiotic-resistant strain of S. typhimurium, called Definitive Type 104 (DT104), was first found in the United Kingdom and then in the United States. It is the second most common strain (after S. enteritidis) of Salmonella found in humans. This strain poses a major threat because it is resistant to several antibiotics normally used to treat people with salmonella disease.


Salmonella bacteria can be found in food products such as raw poultry, eggs, and beef, and sometimes on unwashed fruit. Food prepared on surfaces that previously were in contact with raw meat or meat products can, in turn, become contaminated with the bacteria. This is called cross-contamination.

In recent years, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has received reports of several cases of salmonella from eating raw alfalfa sprouts grown in contaminated soil. You also can get salmonella after handling pets, particularly reptiles like snakes, turtles, and lizards.

Salmonella can become a chronic infection even if you do not have symptoms. In addition, though you may have no symptoms, you can spread the disease by not washing your hands before preparing food for others. In fact, if you know you have salmonella, health care experts recommend you do not prepare food or pour water for others until laboratory tests show you no longer carry Salmonella bacteria.


The following symptoms usually begin from 12 hours to 3 days after you are infected.

  • Diarrhoea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache

These symptoms, along with possible nausea, loss of appetite, and vomiting, usually last for 4 to 7 days.

Symptoms are most severe in the elderly, infants, and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or HIV infection.


Your health care provider can use laboratory tests to identify Salmonella in your stool if you are infected.


If you are like most people with salmonella, the disease will clear up within 5 to 7 days and you won't need to be treated. If you have severe diarrhoea, however, you may need intravenous fluids. If the disease spreads from your intestines into your bloodstream, your health care provider can treat it with antibiotics such as ampicillin.


  • Don't drink milk that is unpasteurized.
  • Don't eat foods containing raw eggs, such as homemade Caesar salad dressing, cookie dough, and hollandaise sauce, or drink homemade eggnog made with raw eggs.
  • Handle raw eggs carefully.
    • Keep eggs refrigerated.
    • Throw away cracked or dirty eggs.
  • Cook eggs thoroughly.
  • Cook poultry products to an internal temperature of 77 degrees Celsius for breast meat and 83 degrees Celsius for thigh meat.
  • Wash thoroughly with soap and hot water all food preparation surfaces and utensils that have come in contact with raw poultry or raw eggs.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling raw poultry or raw eggs.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling reptiles or having contact with pet faeces.


Reiter's Syndrome

While most people recover successfully from salmonella, a few may develop a chronic condition called Reiter's syndrome. This syndrome can last for months or years and can lead to arthritis. Its symptoms are painful joints, irritated eyes, and painful urination.

Unless treated properly, Salmonella bacteria can escape from the intestine and spread by blood to other organs, sometimes leading to death.

Typhoid Fever 

S. typhi bacteria can cause typhoid fever, a more serious disease. This disease can be fatal if untreated. Typhoid fever frequently occurs in developing countries, when people become infected from contaminated water. It's also a risk in areas where flooding or earthquakes cause sewer systems to overflow.

Appropriate antibiotics usually are effective for treating typhoid fever, although the number of cases of antibiotic-resistant S. typhi are increasing in some parts of the world.

Source: National Institute of Health (HIH)

Last updated: February 2010


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Digestive Health Expert

Dr. Estelle Wilken is a Senior Specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. She obtained her MBChB in 1976, her MMed (Int) in 1991 and her gastroenterology registration in 1995.

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