Salmonella: recognizing symptoms and preventing infections

Salmonella: recognizing symptoms and preventing infections

Salmonella are bacteria named after the American bacteriologist Daniel E. Salmon. Of the approximately 2,600 known species, around 120 are capable of causing what is known as salmonellosis, an infectious gastroenteritis, in humans. The symptoms are varied and can be mild or – as in most cases – very severe. Salmonella infection can be hazardous for babies and small children, pregnant women, the elderly or sick, and people with a compromised immune system . However, in some cases, there are no symptoms at all, although Salmonella is present in the intestine and excreted in the stool.

Salmonella infection threatens everywhere.

A salmonella infection almost always occurs through consuming contaminated, i.e. unclean, food, usually in connection with poor hygiene. Salmonellosis causes headlines above all when many people contract it simultaneously. This happens repeatedly in public facilities with community catering, such as kindergartens or retirement homes.

Of course, salmonella infection can also occur in any private household. Such a case is less spectacular and rarely becomes public knowledge, but it is more pleasant and dangerous.

Whether public or private: Salmonellosis is one of the notifiable diseases and must be reported to the health department by the doctor treating you.


What happens when you get infected with Salmonella?

In the case of salmonella poisoning, the bacteria ingested through food reach the intestinal mucosa and release cell toxins. As a result, the tissue in the small intestine and upper large intestine becomes inflamed, which can lead to severe gastrointestinal problems.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection

The incubation period for Salmonella infection is five to 72 hours. It depends on how many pathogens get into the body. Therefore, particularly pronounced symptoms or no symptoms at all can appear.

Salmonella can cause severe gastrointestinal diseases in humans. The following signs usually manifest salmonellosis:

Salmonellosis can cause fluid and electrolyte depletion in diarrhoea and vomiting.


Complications due to salmonellosis

If the bacteria get into the bloodstream, complications can arise in the organs. Examples are meningitis, lung, kidney and liver abscesses or inflammation of joints and bones.

Chills, high fever, circulatory collapse and organ failure are symptoms of salmonella sepsis. This is particularly dangerous for children and older people, as well as for people with a weakened immune system. In extreme cases, a salmonella infection can be fatal.

You can find more information about the dangers of Salmonella here.

duration and course

A Salmonella infection usually clears up after a few days with no lasting effects.

In severe cases, the course of the disease can last longer, and the infection must be treated in the hospital. However, this is only the case for about five per cent of all patients.

However, one can still be contagious for a few weeks after the symptoms have subsided.

Diagnosis of salmonella poisoning

The doctor can make an initial suspected diagnosis based on the symptoms with the typical symptoms. Clear indications are, for example, diarrhoea in connection with consumption or contact with certain foods such as raw meat or raw eggs.

In most cases, the bacteria are detected from the laboratory medical examination of the patient’s stool. In the case of a severe course of the disease, the blood is also examined and depending on the complication, other diagnostic methods are used.


Treating a salmonella infection

In the case of salmonella poisoning – as with all other diarrhoea-related diseases – it is essential to compensate for losing fluids and minerals. Therefore, the sick person should drink a lot of water and tea . In addition, an electrolyte solution from the pharmacy can help to bring the mineral balance back into balance.

To avoid further irritating the gastrointestinal tract, those affected should only eat light and easily digestible food during and shortly after the illness. Physical exertion should be avoided.

Young children, pregnant women, and the elderly and debilitated should consult a doctor if diarrhoea and vomiting last longer than two or three days and if there is also a high fever.

Salmonella poisoning: when to go to the hospital?

In the case of a severe disease course with a significant loss of fluids, the patient must be treated in the hospital with infusions.

Treatment with antibiotics is also only given in the case of a severe course of the salmonella infection and, under certain circumstances, in high-risk patients such as the elderly, small children or people with a weakened immune system.

Obligation to report salmonellosis

Any suspicion of salmonellosis – regardless of the type – must be reported to the health department, as the bacteria are contagious.

People who work in public institutions such as school kindergartens or food companies may no longer be allowed to work if they suspect salmonellosis. You can only start working again if no more salmonella can be detected in three stool samples.


Preventing salmonella: 15 rules

With the proper precautions and attention to a few things, you can protect yourself effectively against Salmonella. Here is an overview of the most important rules:

  1. Put food such as raw meat and sausages, eggs, seafood or ice cream in the fridge or freezer immediately after shopping.
  2. Store foods that are considered possible carriers of Salmonella separately from other foods.
  3. Refrain from interrupting the cold chain even when transporting food.
  4. Do not refreeze ice cream once it has been thawed or thawed; do not eat ice cream while it is thawed or thawed.
  5. Thaw frozen meat in a bowl in the refrigerator, and do not mix the thawed water with other foods.
  6. It is best to process the minced meat on the day of purchase.
  7. Prepare meat on a different surface than other foods.
  8. Only use fresh and well-chilled eggs and eat dishes with raw eggs immediately after production.
  9. For the breakfast egg, cook the egg long enough at high enough temperatures to keep the albumen and the yolk firm. Fry fried eggs for three minutes on each side (even if their appearance suffers).
  10. Heat foods with a high risk of Salmonella to over 75 degrees Celsius for at least ten minutes, and also thoroughly cook pre-cooked foods before consumption. Particular caution is required with meat dishes because fillings can absorb the Salmonella in the raw meat. You should, therefore, only fill the roast immediately before preparing it and take into account the longer cooking time caused by the filling. You should measure the roast’s internal temperature with a meat thermometer before eating. It should be at least 75 degrees Celsius.
  11. When heating food in the microwave, ensure that the cooking time is long enough since heating it too quickly may leave “cold nests” in the food where the pathogens can survive.
  12. Eat hot food within two hours of the last heating.
  13. Clean objects and work surfaces that have come into contact with food, such as raw meat, thoroughly and at a sufficient temperature.
  14. Wash hands regularly, especially after using the toilet and preparing food.
  15. Wash kitchen towels and cloths regularly and at a temperature of at least 60 degrees Celsius.

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