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Salmonellosis

Adam was so excited when he brought his new box turtle home. He filled its water bowl and spent an hour holding it and feeding it lettuce. That night, he fell asleep thinking of how he would make a cool home out of boxes for his new friend.

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.

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, like Adam, 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, and meat — 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. Also, children in diapers who have salmonellosis can spread the infection because their poop will be infected. People who change the child's diapers could get the infection that way.

How Can I Prevent Salmonellosis?

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:

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 a 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 be sure to wash them well before you start munching.

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

How Do I Know if I Have It?

People who get salmonellosis may have these symptoms:

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 salmonella, the doctor may do some more tests to figure out the best kind of medicine for them. In rare cases, the bacteria get into the bloodstream or elsewhere in the body. This requires antibiotic medicine and, sometimes, hospitalization so medicine and fluids can be given intravenously (through a tiny straw-like tube that is inserted directly into a vein) until the person feels better.

Salmonellosis is no fun, but the good news is that most people get better pretty quickly. In a few days, Adam was back to feeling like his usual self. The only difference is that he now makes sure to wash his hands after playing with his turtle. If you have pets, make sure you do, too!

Reviewed by: Joel Klein, MD
Date reviewed: September 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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