Every few months, we hear of a product being recalled from supermarket shelves because of its ties to a salmonella outbreak. Most commonly these are eggs, meat products, vegetables and fruits. Getting salmonella in your body can cause you to be sick, and while some people can recover relatively easily from it, in other cases it can cause death. Salmonella cannot be detected just by looking at the product alone, so when it comes to salmonella some measures must be taken to prevent contamination.
The intestinal illness that is caused by salmonella in humans is called salmonellosis. This is usually caused by humans eating contaminated food, or foods that have come into contact with an infected animal’s feces. Salmonella normally lives in the intestinal tract of animals including birds, but any type of food can be affected with salmonella—all it has to take is some contact.
Exotic pets can also be a source of salmonella. Pets such as lizards, iguanas, turtles—these could all be harboring the salmonella bacteria. Think about a turtle that is infected, staying inside a glass bowl with stationary water—that is a hotbed of salmonella bacteria. This is why turtles are not advisable in a household with infants and elderly living in it, and why people are always advised to wash their hands thoroughly after handling turtles and similar pets.
In many cases salmonella doesn’t pose a serious threat—being infected might just exhibit similar symptoms to a stomach flu, lasting for about a week. During this time, a person may feel upset stomach and experience diarrhea but many recover even without taking medications. These people would be those who have healthy immune systems, but not all will be as lucky. People who have weak or compromised immune systems are at very serious risk when they contract salmonella. These people include babies, children under the age of 5, the elderly and people who have immune deficiencies such as HIV/AIDS.
Those who are at high risk may experience vomiting and dehydration—in these cases they would have to be hydrated intravenously. In some more severe cases, the salmonella bacteria travels from the intestines to the bloodstream, causing severe sickness and may even cause death. These people would have to be taken to the hospital immediately, be hydrated intravenously and administered antibiotics. Some people may even experience inflammation of the joints, eye irritation and difficulty urinating. It is easy to misdiagnose salmonella infection because it can share symptoms with other conditions—the only way to make sure is to do a stool test and check for the presence of the bacteria.
There are ways to minimize the risk of contracting salmonella and these include:
- Do not eat recalled food products
- Always wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating
- Do not eat undercooked eggs
- Be careful about eating foods make with raw eggs (cake icing, hollandaise sauce, homemade mayonnaise)
- Make sure your fresh milk is pasteurized
- Poultry and meat products should be well cooked
- If you’re eating in a restaurant and the meat (including hamburgers) come out looking pinkish, send it back
- Separate your groceries accordingly, do not let vegetables and fruits come into contact with meat and do not let these come into contact with ready to eat foods either
- Refrigerate and freeze your groceries as soon as possible after buying them
- Avoid defrosting food at room temperature—use the microwave, cold water or the fridge
- Wash your hands thoroughly before handing any food preparations
- Wash cutting boards thoroughly
- If infected with salmonella, avoid preparing food, pouring water for others or sharing food utensils and glasses with anyone else
- Do not keep reptilian pets in a house where there are babies and elderly people
- Clean out reptilian cages regularly