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What is Salmonella?

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

We're going to examine salmonella and how we get salmonella infections. Learn how to prevent salmonella infections as well. Take the short quiz that follows to test your understanding on this topic.

Salmonella Defined

Most of us learned very early on that there are some foods that you can eat partially cooked, while other foods should be cooked until they are completely done. I would never eat chicken that is only halfway cooked. Aside from the fact that it would probably not taste so good, there are certain bacteria that have made sure this is something that I would not try. Those bacteria are known as salmonella.

Salmonella bacteria as viewed under the microscope.
Micrograph of salmonella bacteria

Salmonella are a genus of bacteria under which there are multiple species. Some of the species include Salmonella enterica, Salmonella enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium. All members of the genus Salmonella are also classified as being enterobacteria. This means that they live in the intestines of animals. They can live in our intestines as well because you have to keep in mind that humans are animals.

Facts About Salmonella Infections

Infections from salmonella bacteria cause a condition known as salmonellosis. Luckily for most people, the average healthy person will get salmonellosis and not even know that they have it because they have no, or only mild, symptoms. Let's look at the symptoms for those that aren't so lucky.

Given that these are intestinal bacteria, the symptoms that occur are ones that affect the gastrointestinal tract. The most common symptoms are diarrhea, cramping and fever. There is the possibility of dehydration happening as a result of constant diarrhea from salmonellosis.

Treatment and Prevention of Salmonellosis

Now, you are probably wanting to know how to get rid of those unpleasant symptoms. Most of us have an immune system that is able to get rid of the bacteria within a matter of a few days without any lasting effects. If dehydration has set in, then fluid replacement through drinking water or IV may be necessary. Others that have weakened immune systems or other diseases in the body may have to take antibiotics in order to clear the infection.

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent salmonellosis.
Clipart of handwashing

You also likely want to know how to keep from getting it again. That part is relatively simple. Wash your hands after you use the bathroom, before you eat and before you prepare food. Cook all food thoroughly, even beef. I'm guilty of loving a steak cooked medium. While I haven't gotten salmonellosis from it, the possibility does exist. Be careful when others prepare your food. This applies to restaurants as well as other people's houses. You want to be sure that everyone washes their hands before they cook for you.

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