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Salmonellosis

Reviewed by: Rebecca L. Gill, MD

Adam was so excited when he brought his new box turtle home. But a few days later, he got a really bad stomachache and was running to the bathroom a lot. When he saw blood in the toilet after he pooped, his mom took him to the doctor. Once the doctor heard about Adam's new turtle, he did a few tests and diagnosed Adam with salmonellosis.

What Is Salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis (say: sal-muh-neh-LOW-sis) is an illness caused by Salmonella (say: sal-muh-NEH-luh) bacteria. If the bacteria find their way into a person's stomach and intestines, they can cause cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There are several different types, or strains, of Salmonella bacteria, and they all can make you sick.

What Causes Salmonella Infections?

Salmonella can be found in soil, water, raw food, and the bowel movements (poop) of some animals, including reptiles like turtles and snakes. Some kids get sick because of a pet or other animal. If poop gets on the animal's skin, the bacteria will get on the skin, too. Then a person who touches the animal can get the bacteria and might develop salmonellosis.

Someone also can be infected by eating food that has not been handled or prepared well. Sometimes Salmonella bacteria are found in raw foods — such as eggs, milk, chicken, turkey, beef, and pork — that have touched animal poop. If these foods are not processed or cooked well, the bacteria stay alive in the food and can infect someone who eats it.

People who have salmonellosis have the bacteria in their own poop, too. So if the sick person doesn't wash his or her hands carefully after using the bathroom and then touches food, the bacteria can get in the food and spread to other people.

What Are the Signs of a Salmonella Infection?

People who get salmonellosis may have these symptoms:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • painful stomach cramps
  • diarrhea, which could be bloody

Salmonellosis also may cause a headache and fever. Keep in mind that other illnesses also can cause all these symptoms, so it's important to tell your parent and see a doctor to figure out if you have salmonellosis.

What Will the Doctor Do?

To diagnose salmonellosis, a doctor will examine you and ask questions, like what you might have eaten recently. The doctor might ask you for a stool sample (some poop), which can be sent to a lab and tested for Salmonella bacteria.

If a healthy kid has salmonellosis and the symptoms aren't too bad, the doctor might say that no special medicine or treatment is necessary. The symptoms usually last a few days and most people feel pretty good again within a week.

But if someone's symptoms are severe, or if a tiny baby or anyone who has another illness like cancer or HIV gets salmonellosis, the doctor may do some more tests to figure out the best kind of medicine for them.

How Can I Prevent Salmonella Infections?

Because Salmonella bacteria are spread through poop, one of the best ways to prevent illness is to wash your hands often with warm water and soap.

Make a special effort to wash your hands in these situations:

  • right after playing with a pet or animal (especially a reptile or chicken)
  • right after you use the bathroom
  • before preparing any food, like cutting up vegetables for dinner
  • before eating any food

That's a lot of hand washing, but it's worth it! Even if you were to get Salmonella bacteria on your hands, you will get rid of them before they can make you sick.

You also might remind other members of your family to wash their hands often. People who cook meals should wash their hands before touching any food. It's also important to use water and soap to clean kitchen counters, cutting boards, and knives after they touch raw foods.

Another way to protect against Salmonella infection is to never eat raw or undercooked eggs, meat, chicken, or turkey. Meat, chicken, and turkey should be cooked until they are no longer pink in the center, and eggs should be cooked so they aren't wet and runny. Raw fruit and vegetables make healthy snacks, but wash them well before you start munching.

If you choose a reptile for a pet, remember that many reptiles carry Salmonella. Be sure everyone washes up after touching the animal or its cage.

Salmonellosis is no fun, but the good news is that most people get better pretty quickly.

Reviewed by: Rebecca L. Gill, MD
Date reviewed: November 2017