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What Is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a bacteria (type of germ). Someone with a Salmonella infection (or salmonellosis) might have diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and cramps. With rest and plenty of fluids, most people feel better within a week.

How Do People Get Salmonella Infections?

Salmonella (sal-meh-NEL-uh) infections usually happen because someone ate or drank something contaminated with the feces (poop) from an infected animal. This can happen when they:

  • Eat raw or undercooked poultry beef, poultry (chicken or turkey), or eggs.
  • Eat food that touched knives or cutting boards that had raw poultry or meat on them.
  • Drink unpasteurized (raw) milk.
  • Eat vegetables that haven’t been washed well.

A person also can get infected if they touch poop with the bacteria in it and then get it in their mouth. This can happen from:

  • swimming in or drinking water with the bacteria in it
  • touching an infected animal (especially a chicken, duck, or reptile like an iguana or turtle)

It is not common for someone to get a Salmonella infection from another person, but it can happen.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Salmonella Infection?

Kids with a Salmonella infection typically have diarrhea (sometimes with blood in it), fever, and belly pain. In some kids, it causes a headache. In young babies and people with a weak immune system (for example, from chemotherapy), infections can be more severe and cause infection in the pee, blood (called bacteremia), bones, joints, or brain.

How Are Salmonella Infections Diagnosed?

If a child has diarrhea, doctors can do a stool test to check for Salmonella bacteria. Sometimes they order other tests such as blood tests to check for bacteremia.

How Are Salmonella Infections Treated?

Kids with a Salmonella infection should drink lots of fluids so that they don’t get dehydrated. They should also rest as needed. Don't give anti-diarrhea medicines as some can make diarrhea worse.

Doctors may prescribe antibiotics for young children or babies, children with a weak immune system, or kids who have severe or long-lasting diarrhea.

Can Salmonella Infections Be Prevented?

Some precautions can help prevent Salmonella infections. Be sure to:

  • Cook poultry, meat, and seafood until well done.
  • Cook eggs until yolks are firm.
  • Don’t eat foods that contain raw eggs (such as Caesar salad, tiramisu, egg nog, and cookie dough).
  • Wash all cutting boards, utensils, and counters that have touched raw poultry or meat.
  • Make sure all milk products are pasteurized.
  • Put leftovers in the refrigerator within 2 hours and use within 3–4 days.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or lower and your freezer at 0°F or lower.
  • Avoid contact with the poop of family pets, especially reptiles like turtles and iguanas. Wash hands well after handling an animal and make sure that no reptiles come near a baby.

Everyone in your family should wash their hands well and often. This is especially important after going to the bathroom, and before preparing or eating foods.

Because Salmonella bacteria can be on food and in water:

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables in clean water before eating.
  • Only drink water that has been tested and approved for purity (especially in developing countries). While hiking and camping, don't drink water from streams or rivers.

When caring for someone who has diarrhea, wash your hands well and often, especially before touching other people and before eating or preparing food. Clean toilets after the person with diarrhea uses them.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

Call your doctor if your child:

  • has diarrhea with blood in it
  • has diarrhea that lasts longer than a week
  • is vomiting
  • shows any signs of dehydration, such as peeing less often, dry mouth, few or no tears, or sunken eyes
  • has new or worse belly pain
  • has a high fever
  • is very sleepy
  • has joint pain

You know your child best. Call the doctor if your child has any other signs that concern you.

Medically reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: November 2022