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Foodborne Diseases


Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella bacteria. The disease causes acute intestinal distress with sudden onset of headache, fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

These symptoms, along with loss of appetite, can persist for several days. Dehydration, especially among infants, can be severe. Salmonella is an invasive organism that can escape the confines of the intestine and become disseminated by the blood to other organs. It can become a chronic infection in some people, who can be symptom-free yet capable of spreading the disease to others. Ordinarily, deaths are uncommon except in those who are very young, elderly, or have weakened immune systems. Salmonella infections are increasing in the United States. In fact, recurrent opportunistic Salmonella bacteremia is considered an AIDS-defining illness.

Numerous types of Salmonella cause disease in both animals and people. While there is much variation in the relative prevalence of different types of Salmonella species from country to country, in the United States Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella enteritidis are the two most commonly reported. A multidrug-resistant strain of Salmonella typhimurium, called Definitive Type 104 (DT104), first emerged in the United Kingdom in 1984 and was recently detected in the United States. Now it is the second most prevalent strain (after serotype enteritidis) of Salmonella isolated from humans. These DT104 isolates pose a significant new threat because they are resistant to several antibiotics normally used to treat people with salmonella infections including ampicillin, chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfonamides, and tetracycline.

Salmonellosis occurs worldwide, but it is most extensively reported in North America and Europe. Only a small proportion of infected people are tested and diagnosed, with as few as 1 percent of cases reported. Salmonellosis may occur in small, localized outbreaks in the general population or in large outbreaks in hospitals, restaurants, or institutions for children or the elderly.

Domestic and wild animals, including poultry, pigs, cattle and pets such as turtles, iguanas, chicks, dogs and cats, can harbor the Salmonella bacterium and, although symptomless, can pass on the infection.

Salmonellosis is caused most often by drinking raw milk or by eating undercooked poultry and poultry products such as eggs. In addition, other types of food prepared on surfaces contaminated by raw chicken or turkey can, in turn, become contaminated. Less often, the illness stems from food contaminated by a food worker.

References and Sources: Medline, Pubmed, National Institutes of Health.

last update: November 2008

This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use this material to diagnose or treat a health condition or disease without consulting with your healthcare provider.
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