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Salmonella and Food Poisoning

Childhood Infections


Updated August 03, 2011

A high magnification view of a colony of Salmonella bacteria.

A high magnification view of a colony of Salmonella bacteria.

Photo Courtesy of the CDC / Janice Haney Carr

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is best known for causing food poisoning, being associated with several well-publicized outbreaks in recent years.

Salmonella Typhimurium and Salmonella Enteritidis are the most common subtypes of Salmonella that cause illness in the United States. These nontyphoidal salmonella strains usually cause classic salmonellosis, a gastrointestinal infection.

Another subtype of Salmonella, Salmonella Typhi can cause typhoid fever, with symptoms that can include a high fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and a rash. Typhoid fever is uncommon in the United States but is still common throughout the developing world. Getting a typhoid vaccine is often recommended before traveling to high-risk areas, such as smaller cities, villages and rural areas in South Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Salmonella Symptoms

Symptoms of classic nontyphoidal Salmonella infections can include:

  • watery diarrhea, which can sometimes contain blood and mucus
  • fever
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting

These Salmonella symptoms began about 6 to 72 hours after exposure to the Salmonella bacteria and can last for four to seven days.

Other signs or symptoms, including a high fever, chills or septic shock, can be a sign that the Salmonella infection has spread to the child's bloodstream (bacteremia). Salmonella can also spread and cause meningitis, bone infections and other types of infections.

Salmonella Risk Factors

How do kids get exposed to the Salmonella bacteria?

Many exposures are from contaminated animal products, including raw or undercooked poultry, eggs and meat and unpasteurized, raw milk.

Other sources of Salmonella can include:

  • contaminated produce
  • contact with contaminated animals, like at a farm or petting zoo
  • contact with pets that commonly have Salmonella, especially reptiles (turtles, iguanas, other lizards, snakes, etc.) and amphibians (frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, etc.)

Salmonella Treatments

For children with uncomplicated salmonellosis, the main treatments are aimed at preventing dehydration. Although antibiotics are available to treat Salmonella infections, they are usually not used, because they can make the child contagious for longer periods of time.

Antibiotics for salmonellosis might be necessary for infants who are under three months old and older children with immune system problems.

Keep in mind that most children with salmonellosis recover in four to seven days without antibiotics or other specific treatments.

Salmonella Outbreaks

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were six large outbreaks of Salmonella infections in the United States from 2007 to 2009, including:

  • 691 people from 46 states in a Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter and peanut paste
  • 1,220 people from 42 states who become infected in an outbreak that was thought to be initially linked to certain types of raw tomatoes but is now thought to be associated with eating raw jalapeño and raw serrano peppers
  • 425 people from 44 states who became infected with Salmonella after eating contaminated Great Value and Peter Pan peanut butter
  • 65 people, mostly infants and toddlers, from 20 states who became infected with Salmonella after eating Veggie Booty snacks
  • 62 people from 18 states who became infected with Salmonella because of an association with contaminated pet food (perhaps handling the pet food or contact with a pet who became sick)
  • 272 people in 35 states who became infected with Salmonella after eating contaminated ConAgra Foods pot pies

More recent salmonella outbreaks have been linked to turkey burgers, papayas, and alfalfa sprouts.

What You Need to Know

  • Although a vaccine is available to prevent typhoid fever, there is no vaccine for nontyphoidal strains of Salmonella.

  • Stool cultures can usually detect if a child has salmonellosis.

  • Cook food thoroughly to help prevent food poisoning and Salmonella infections, and wash your hands carefully when preparing food (although that won't prevent infections from some sources, such as contaminated peanut butter).

  • Teach your kids to wash their hands after handling a pet, and don't keep pet reptiles in your home if you have a child under age 5.


Kliegman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th ed.

Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 3rd ed.

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