Family doctor



SALMONELLA - a patient's guide


Salmonella is a common source of food poisoning. This article provides information on treatment and prevention of the illness.


  • Salmonella is a bacteria which causes food poisoning
  • The bacteria is commonly found in raw chicken, and eggs but all foods can have it
  • Thorough cooking can stop people getting the infection
  • The illness strikes up to three days after infection and lasts for several days
  • Salmonella causes diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and fever
  • The elderly or those with weak immune systems may develop a severe illness
  • Careful food handling can prevent the illness

What is it?

Salmonella enteritis is a form of food poisoning, which causes swelling in the lining of the small intestine.

The infection is caused by the bacteria salmonella, which is found in animals, especially chicken, eggs, and turkey.

People are infected from eating or drinking food or water that has been contaminated with the bacteria.

All foods can carry the bug, including beef, milk, and vegetables. Thorough cooking does kill the bacteria and stop it spreading to people.

You can also catch salmonella from reptiles such as pet iguana, lizards, turtles and snakes.

It is possible for some people who have been infected to become carriers for up to one year following the illness.

Salmonella affects about one in 1000 people, with children and infants most at risk.

The illness is more common during the summer months.

What are the symptoms?

Those who are infected with salmonella develop diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and fever after eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

The illness strikes between eight hours to three days after being infected, and symptoms of a severe infection can last up two weeks, though most people recover within four to seven days.

Laboratory testing of stools is required to confirm salmonella poisoning, because diarrhoea can be caused by a number of other infections as well.

Some people infected with salmonella can develop blood poisoning or Reiter's syndrome, which affects the joints, eyes and can lead to arthritis.

What can be done to help?

Most sufferers do not need treatment and will recover without intervention.

Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, and eat low-fat foods such as dry toast, stewed apples and rice when you begin to recover.

People with severe illness and chronic diarrhoea may need hospital care and treatment with antibiotics. The elderly, young children and those with weak immune systems are most at risk of developing chronic illness.

Some forms of salmonella bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics because they have been used in animals.

How can it be prevented?

Safe food hygiene practices can help to stop infection.

Be careful not to eat raw or undercooked eggs or chicken. Raw eggs can be used in salad dressings such as hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing.

Chicken and meat must be cooked until it is piping hot, with no pink in the middle.

Avoid drinking unpasteurised milk and wash all vegetables before eating.

Also be careful when handling food to prevent cross contamination. Be sure to wash cutting boards and other utensils after preparing meat and chicken, so other foods are not infected.

Always wash your hands after contact with animal feces or handling reptiles.

Future trends

New methods to prevent contamination of raw meats are expected to be developed in the future.

Continued education about safe food handling practices is also expected to help limit salmonella outbreaks in the future.

Getting help

Your doctor or practice nurse will be able to help.

The illness should also be reported to health authorities (notifiable).

See also:

Did this article meet your requirements/expectations?