Salmonella is a group of bacteria that commonly cause foodborne illness. An infection by the bacteria is called salmonellosis (or salmonella for short), and you can get it by consuming contaminated food products including raw poultry, eggs, beef, and in some cases fruits and vegetables. You can also get salmonella by handling pets — particularly some birds and reptiles.

Salmonella infections are extremely common — the bacteria causes more than a million infections in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most people who get a salmonella infection recover fully without treatment, but in some cases, the illness can be severe enough to require hospitalization.

There are many types of salmonella — as many as 2,500 have been categorized, the CDC reports — but only just under 100 types are known to cause infections in humans. Most of these cause gastrointestinal illness, but other types, such as Salmonella typhi and Salmonella paratyphi, which are not common in the United States, can cause the life-threatening illnesses typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever. Most people in the United States who have these types of infections acquire them while traveling abroad in areas where these diseases are common.

Causes and Risk Factors of Salmonella

Salmonella lives in the intestinal tract of humans and other animals and can pass out of the body through feces. The bacteria can infect someone when they touch or eat something that’s been contaminated with that feces. Some common ways in which a person can become infected with salmonella include:

1. Eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with animal feces, such as:

  • Undercooked beef, poultry, or fish (cooking destroys salmonella)
  • Raw eggs or products containing uncooked eggs, such as cookie dough
  • Raw or unpasteurized dairy or dairy products such as milk
  • Raw vegetables or fruit

2. Eating food that has been handled by a food worker who hasn’t properly washed their hands

3. Petting or handling the waste of an animal, particularly one that’s known to carry salmonella, such as lizards, turtles, or baby birds

Anyone can get salmonella, but those who are at increased risk of getting a severe infection include:
  • Children under age 5
  • Infants who are not breastfed
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Individuals with a weakened immune system (such as people with HIV or sickle cell disease, cancer patients, and those taking corticosteroids)
  • People taking antacids (stomach acid can kill many types of salmonella bacteria; antacids lower your stomach’s acidity, which allows more bacteria to thrive)
  • People taking antibiotics (these can lower the amount of “good” bacteria and leave you vulnerable to the infection)
  • People with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which damages your intestinal lining and makes it easier for salmonella to flourish
  • Pet owners (especially those who own birds and reptiles)

Duration of Salmonella

In most cases, salmonella is a brief illness that causes stomach cramps and diarrhea for a few days. Symptoms typically last for about four to seven days but may linger as long as several weeks.

In some cases, however, symptoms can be more severe and last longer, and may lead to hospitalization and long-term complications.

Complications of Salmonella

Salmonella infections can cause complications if the bacteria spreads from the digestive system to other places in the body, including the bloodstream, bones, joints, and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

Some possible complications of salmonella include:

Dehydration People who have a salmonella infection are at risk for losing too much fluid due to vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Decreased urine production
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes

Bacteremia Salmonella can leave your intestines and enter your bloodstream. If that happens, infection can spread to other areas of your body, including:

  • The tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (causing meningitis)
  • The lining of your heart or its valves (causing endocarditis)
  • Bones or bone marrow (causing osteomyelitis)
Reactive arthritis (or Reiter’s syndrome) A salmonella infection can increase your risk of developing this inflammatory condition. Symptoms typically include:
  • Pain and stiffness in the joints
  • Swelling in the toes and fingers
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Painful urination

Black and Hispanic Americans and Salmonella

Some research suggests that rates of salmonella infection may be slightly higher in people of color. The authors of an article published in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, reviewing the CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) data, found that salmonella infection was highest among African Americans, followed by Hispanic Americans, and then Caucasians, in the years 1998 to 2000. Data from 2008 to 2011 also suggested that African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans tended to experience higher rates of salmonella than white people.
According to the article, research suggests that education gaps in safe food handling practices may be one reason for these disparities. It also refers to evidence indicating that low-income and minority population groups often reside in “food deserts,” where there’s limited availability of healthy and safe food, and choices are limited to smaller grocers, convenience stores, and fast food or takeout restaurants — all of which may play a role in an increased risk of foodborne illnesses.

RELATED: #BlackHealthFacts MATTER

Resources We Love

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

From questions and answers about symptoms to the latest reports and alerts about new infections, this site is the premier source for the information you need about salmonella from the world’s leading infectious-disease experts.

What are the four steps you need to take for food safety? What are the bacteria and viruses you need to watch out for to keep yourself and your family safe? And how do you know what your risk level is? You can find key information about food safety — as well as information about alerts and food recalls — here on this seminal site for food safety.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

If you get food poisoning, these are the tips and recommendations you’ll need to understand what remedies may help your symptoms and how doctors treat salmonella and other infections.

Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking

  • Salmonella. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 24, 2020.
  • Salmonella: Questions and Answers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 5, 2019.
  • Salmonella Symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. December 12, 2019.
  • Salmonella Infection. Mayo Clinic. October 11, 2019.
  • Drug-Resistant Nontyphoidal Salmonella. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019.
  • Treatment for Food Poisoning. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. June 2019.
  • Four Steps to Food Safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 14, 2020.
  • Reactive Arthritis. Mayo Clinic. October 2, 2019.
  • Quinlan J. Foodborne Illness Incidence Rates and Food Safety Risks for Populations of Low Socioeconomic Status and Minority Race/Ethnicity: A Review of the Literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. August 2013.
  • Typhoid Fever. Mayo Clinic. November 3, 2020.
  • Guandalini S. Probiotics for Prevention and Treatment of Diarrhea. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology. November 2011.
  • Salmonella Enterocolitis. MedlinePlus. December 3, 2020. 
  • Salmonella Questions and Answers. U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service. August 7, 2013.
  • Salmonella Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 8, 2019.
  • Salmonella. Cleveland Clinic. January 17, 2019.


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