Salmonella Gastroenteritis (Adult)

Image of digestive system: esophagus, liver, stomach, large and small intestines

Salmonella is a type of germ (bacteria) that some animals carry. This includes poultry, cows, fish, pigs, turtles, lizards, iguanas, dogs, and cats. You can get salmonella by eating food or drinking water contaminated with animal stool (feces). Any foods may be contaminated, including vegetables and sprouts. But beef, poultry, milk, eggs, and seafood are the main sources of contamination. Cooking food completely kills salmonella.

Salmonella infection occurs most often in infants and children, older adults, pregnant women and their unborn babies, and people with weak immune systems. These include people with HIV or sickle cell disease, those who have had their spleen removed, or people taking chemotherapy.

A salmonella infection can cause the following symptoms:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Belly (abdominal) cramps

  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood)

  • Fever

  • Headache

Symptoms appear within 12 to 72 hours of exposure and often go away after 4 to 7 days. Mild symptoms will get better without any antibiotic treatment. People with a more severe illness, and those at high risk, need to take antibiotics. Medicines to stop diarrhea are sometimes OK, if you don't have fever, severe belly pain, or bloody diarrhea. Check with your healthcare provider first.

Home care

Medicines

  • If antibiotics are prescribed, be sure you take them until they are finished.

  • You may use acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or naproxen, to control fever, unless another medicine is prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or digestive tract bleeding. Don't give aspirin to a child younger than 18 years old. It may cause a serious condition called Reye's syndrome. That may result in severe liver damage. Don't use NSAID medicine if you're already taking one for another condition (like arthritis) or an aspirin (such as for heart disease or after a stroke.)

  • If medicines for diarrhea or vomiting are prescribed, take only as directed.

General care

  • If symptoms are severe, rest at home for the next 24 hours, or until you feel better.

  • Wash your hands with soap and clean, running water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is the best way to stop the spread of infection. Wash your hands after touching anyone who's sick.

  • Wash your hands after using the toilet and before meals. Clean the toilet after each use.

  • Caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol can make your diarrhea, cramping, and pain worse.

Food

  • Water and clear liquids are important so you don't get dehydrated. Drink small amounts at a time.

  • Sports drinks may also help.

  • Don't force yourself to eat, especially if you have cramps, vomiting, or diarrhea. Don't eat large amounts at a time, even if you are hungry.

  • If you eat, stay away from fatty, greasy, spicy, or fried foods.

  • Don't eat dairy products if you have diarrhea. These can make the diarrhea worse.

During the 1st full day, follow the diet below:

  • Drinks. Water, sports drinks, soft drinks without caffeine, mineral water, and decaffeinated tea and coffee. But keep in mind that if you're very dehydrated, sports drinks aren't a good choice. They have too much sugar and not enough electrolytes. In this case, commercially available products called oral rehydration solutions are best.

  • Soups. Clear broth, consommé, and bouillon.

  • Desserts. Plain gelatin, frozen ice pops, and fruit juice bars.

On the 2nd day, follow the same diet above. If you're feeling better, you may add the following items:

  • Hot cereal, plain toast, bread, rolls, crackers

  • Plain noodles, rice, mashed potatoes, chicken noodle or rice soup

  • Unsweetened canned fruit (stay away from pineapple), bananas

  • Limit caffeine and chocolate. No spices or seasonings except salt.

On the 3rd day:

  • Slowly resume a normal diet, as you feel better and your symptoms improve.

  • If at any time your symptoms start getting worse, go back to clear liquids until you feel better.

Food preparation

  • If you have diarrhea, you should not prepare or serve food to others.

  • When preparing foods, wash your hands before and after.

  • Wash your hands after using cutting boards, countertops, and knives that have been in contact with raw food.

  • Keep uncooked meats away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

  • Use a food thermometer when cooking. Cook poultry to at least 165°F (74°C). Cook ground meat (beef, veal, pork, and lamb) to at least 160°F (71°C). Cook fresh beef, veal, lamb, and pork to at least 145°F (63°C).

  • Don't serve raw or undercooked eggs (poached or sunny side up), or unpasteurized milk and juices.

  • Wash and peel produce before eating.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Call if you don't get better within 24 hours, or if diarrhea lasts more than 2 days. If a stool (diarrhea) sample was taken, call as directed for the results.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Severe drowsiness or trouble waking up

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Chest pain

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

When to get medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Severe, constant belly pain

  • Continued vomiting (unable to keep liquids down)

  • Frequent diarrhea (more than 5 times a day)

  • Blood (red or black color) or mucus in diarrhea

  • Reduced oral intake

  • Signs of dehydration: increased thirst, reduced or no urine output, dark colored urine, dry skin. 

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as advised by your provider

  • New rash

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