Salmonella: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

The term Salmonella refers to a group of bacteria that cause Salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, in the intestinal tract.

Typhoid fever, food poisoning, gastroenteritis, enteric fever, and other illnesses are all types of Salmonella infection.

Salmonella poisoning is often linked to contaminated water or foods, especially meat, poultry, and eggs. Symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and vomiting, which tend to appear 12 to 72 hours after infection.

Most people recover after 4 to 7 days without treatment, but a person with severe diarrhea may need hospital treatment.

Apart from food and water, transmission has been linked to pet reptiles. From March through August 2017, a multistate outbreak of Salmonella affected at least 33 people in 13 states, of whom 16 were hospitalized and 12 were under 5 years of age. The outbreak was linked to contact with pet turtles.

Fast facts on salmonella

Here are some key points about salmonella. More detail is in the main article.

Salmonella poisoning affects around 1.4 million Americans each year and is responsible for almost half the bacterial infections in the United States (U.S.).

Infection mostly spreads through contaminated water and food.

Symptoms normally include chills, diarrhea, and fever.

The illness usually goes away on its own, but severe cases may need hospital treatment.

Prevention tips include regular handwashing, ensuring all food is well cooked and carefully stored, and not keeping pet reptiles in the home.

What is salmonella?

Salmonella are gram-negative, rod-shaped bacilli that can cause salmonellosis, a diarrheal illness in humans.

Gram-negative bacteria usually have a cell wall composed of a thin layer of peptidoglycan, covered by a membrane.

There are over 2,300 subtypes of the Salmonella enterica bacterium, including serovars enterititis, Salmonella Agbeni, and typhimurium.

The bacteria live in the gut of infected humans and animals. Some animal and human strains can make humans sick.

Salmonella is a major cause of human bacterial infections in the United States (U.S.). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it affects around 1 million Americans every year, leading to 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths.

Below is a 3-D model of Salmonella enterica, which is fully interactive.

Explore the model using your mouse pad or touchscreen to understand more about Salmonella enterica.


There are thousands of subtypes of Salmonella bacteria, but only about 12 that make people ill, usually with gastroenteritis.

Signs and symptoms of salmonella-induced gastroenteritis include:

stomach cramps

bloody stools





muscle pains




Some people experience joint pain, known as reactive arthritis. It can last for months or years, and it can become chronic arthritis.

Salmonella may be caused by uncooked meat or seafood.

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of birds, animals, and humans. Most human infections are caused by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated by feces.

Foods most commonly infected are:

Uncooked meat, seafood and poultry: Contamination most commonly occurs during the slaughtering process. Harvesting seafood in contaminated waters is a common cause.

Uncooked eggs: Eggs from an infected chicken may contain bacteria. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimate that, every year, there are 79,000 cases of foodborne illness in the U.S., due to eating eggs containing salmonella. Raw eggs are found in some types of mayonnaise and homemade sauces.

Fruits and vegetables: These may be contaminated if they have been watered or washed in contaminated water. Fruits and vegetables can become contaminated if a person handles raw meat and then touches the fruit without washing their hands.

Other causes include:

Lack of hygiene: Common causes of contamination and infection include kitchen surfaces that are not kept clean, and not washing hands during food preparation, after using the bathroom, or after changing a baby’s diapers. A person with contaminated hands can pass the infection on to other people by touching them, or by touching surfaces that others then touch.

Keeping pet reptiles or amphibians: Most reptiles and amphibians carry Salmonella in their gut without becoming ill. They shed the bacteria in their droppings. These can quickly spread onto their skin and then anything they come into contact with, including cages, toys, clothes, furniture, and household surfaces.

Pet reptiles should not be kept indoors if there are children under 5 years of age, pregnant women, older people, or people with a weakened immune system in the household.

Since 1975, the FDA have banned the sale and distribution of small turtles, because of the risk of Salmonella infection.

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