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Digestive SystemSalmonella is actually a group of bacteria that can cause diarrhea in humans. (Read about "Microorganisms" "Diarrhea") The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that every year, approximately 800,000 to 4 million cases of Salmonella result in 500 deaths in the United States. Young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems (Read about "The Immune System") are the most likely to have severe infections.

Salmonella bacteria are usually transmitted to humans by eating foods contaminated with feces. The food may look and smell fine, but it's not. All foods, including vegetables, may become contaminated, although most cases involve foods from animal sources such as meat, poultry, eggs or milk. (Read about "Food Safety")

Salmonella can also be transmitted by the family pet. Dogs, cats, horses and other animals all carry Salmonella. Even reptiles such as turtles and snakes carry Salmonella. CDC estimates that 70,000 people get salmonella from contact with reptiles in the United States each year. (Read about "Animal & Insect Borne Diseases") People who work with animals, such as farmers, are also at risk. (Read about "Farm Safety")

Salmonella causes gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. (Read about "Gastroenteritis") Symptoms typically start 12 to 72 hours after infection and include:

The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days and most people recover without treatment. But in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may have spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites. Infections in the digestive tract with Salmonella may trigger reactive arthritis, a condition that can cause inflammation in the joints, and sometimes the eyes and/or urinary tract. (Read about "Reactive Arthritis")

That's why it's important to treat infections like Salmonella seriously. A common concern, especially for children and seniors, is dehydration. (Read about "Dehydration") This happens if the body loses more fluids and salts (electrolytes) than it takes in. Signs of dehydration include a decrease in urine production (Read about "The Urinary System"), extreme thirst, dry mouth and unusual drowsiness. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and requires immediate care. CDC says special oral rehydration fluids can be purchased at drugstores, and can be used according to the package directions. You should ask your pediatrician what's best in your child's case. If you have any concerns about dehydration, contact your doctor at once. It's also important to call your doctor if there is fever or prolonged vomiting.

It's also a good idea to develop (and help children develop) habits that can reduce the risk of infections like Salmonella. The following are suggestions from CDC and the International Food Information Council:

Although you can't guarantee you or your family will never get an infection such as Salmonella, you can at least help reduce your risk.

Related Information:

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