Salmonellosis is a kind of food poisoning. Food poisoning is caused by harmful germs in something you eat or drink. It can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and headache.
There are about 40,000 new cases of salmonellosis each year in the United States. Most people don’t have serious health problems from salmonellosis. But if you get salmonellosis during pregnancy, it can cause serious and even life-threatening problems for you and your growing baby.
Salmonellosis is caused by bacteria called Salmonella. Bacteria are tiny organisms that live in and around your body. Some bacteria are good for your body. Others, like Salmonella, can make you sick.
Salmonella germs live in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. The digestive tract includes organs like the stomach and colon. These organs help your body break down the food you eat. Salmonella can be found in poop of infected animals and people.
You can get infected with Salmonella in two ways:
- By touching an infected animal. Salmonella can be found in poop, soil, water (including fish tank water), food and bedding of infected animals, including pets. Salmonella germs can spread easily to the animal’s fur, feathers and scales. Animals that are most likely to carry Salmonella include reptiles (turtles, lizards, snakes) and poultry (chickens, ducks, geese).
- By eating foods that are contaminated with Salmenella. These foods may look and smell normal, even if they’re contaminated.
Foods that often have Salmonella include:
- Raw or undercooked poultry, meat or fish. Cooking these items fully kills Salmonella.
- Raw or undercooked eggs and foods made with them. Salmonella can pass from chickens to their eggs. Even eggs that look normal can have Salmonella. Don’t eat food made with raw eggs, including homemade mayonnaise, hollandaise sauce, Caesar salad dressing, cookie dough, frostings and homemade ice cream.
- Unpasteurized milk, milk products and juice, or foods made from them. If a food has been pasteurized, it’s been heated to kill bad germs. Milk and juice often are pasteurized. Look for the word “pasteurized” on the product label.
- Foods that come in contact with animal poop in the soil or water where they grow. These include mushrooms, fruits, vegetables and vegetable sprouts, like alfalfa, clover, radish and mung beans.
- Food that comes into contact with Salmonella while you’re making or serving it. For example, if you’re infected and don’t wash your hands after using the bathroom, you can spread the infection to food you handle. Or if you use the same knife to cut raw chicken and tomatoes and don’t wash the knife in between, it can pass Salmonella from the chicken to the tomatoes. These are examples of cross contamination, which means the transfer of harmful bacteria from one thing to another.
You may hear news stories about foods that have been recalled (not allowed to be sold) because of Salmonella. If you’ve eaten one of these foods, contact your health care provider right away.
Signs and symptoms of salmonellosis usually start 12 to 72 hours (3 days) after infection. You may be sick for 4 to 7 days. To test for salmonellosis, your provider takes a stool sample (a sample of your poop) from you and sends it to a lab for testing.
Call your health care provider if you have any of these signs or symptoms:
Salmonellosis usually goes away on its own without treatment. But diarrhea from salmonellosis can cause dehydration. This means you don’t have enough water in your body. If you have salmonellosis, drink lots of liquids.
If you have severe salmonellosis, diarrhea may be so bad that you need to go to a hospital for treatment. Without quick treatment with antibiotics, a person with severe salmonellosis can die. Antibiotics are medicine that kills infections caused by bacteria. People with severe salmonellosis also may need intravenous (IV) fluids. This is when liquids are given through a needle into a vein.
Salmonellosis can lead to health complications during pregnancy, including:
- Bacteremia (bacteria in the blood). This can lead to problems, like meningitis. Meningitis is an infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
- Reactive arthritis (also called Reiter’s syndrome). This can cause swelling or pain in joints, like the knees, ankles and toes.
You can pass salmonellosis to your baby during pregnancy. If your baby is born with salmonellosis, she may have diarrhea and fever after birth. She also may develop meningitis.
You may be more likely to get salmonellosis than other women if you:
- Take antacids (medicines used for heartburn). Antacids, like Tums®, lower the amount of acid in your stomach. This makes it easier for Salmonella to grow.
- Have inflammatory bowel disease (also called IBD). IBD is a digestive condition that harms the lining of your intestines, which makes it easy for Salmonella to grow there.
- Have recently used antibiotics. Antibiotics are medicines that kill infections caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can kill the good bacteria that fight off Salmonella.
- Have a weak immune system or an illness like HIV, sickle cell disease or malaria. These diseases can weaken your immune system so that your body can’t fight off Salmonella.
- Travel to places that don’t have good sanitation systems. Sanitation systems include toilets and clean water for cooking and washing. Salmonella can spread quickly without good sanitation systems. Try not to be in places without good sanitation during pregnancy.
- Have a pet bird or reptile. Many chicks and young birds carry Salmonella. Reptiles often have Salmonella on their scales.
- Live and eat in group housing. Group housing is housing for a large number of people. For example, a college dorm is a kind of group housing. In group housing, you may come in contact with germs from many other people. Foods served in group housing often are made in large batches to feed many people. If one portion of meat is infected with Salmonella, it can ruin the whole batch.
Here are some things you can do to help prevent salmonellosis:
- Handle foods safely when you wash, prepare, cook and store them.
- Wash your hands well with soap and water after contact with animals, animal food, bedding, tanks or animal poop.
- Wash your hands well with soap and water after using the bathroom.
- Watch out for cross contamination between yourself, food and any utensils or supplies you use when preparing or eating food.
Last reviewed March 2013
See also: Listeriosis, Handling foods safely, Eating healthy during pregnancy