Salmonella infection is a common bacterial disease that affects the intestinal tract. Salmonella bacteria typically live in animal and human intestines and are shed through feces. Humans become infected most frequently through contaminated water or food sources.
Typically, people with salmonella infection develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within eight to 72 hours. Most healthy people recover within a few days without specific treatment.
In some cases, the diarrhea associated with salmonella infection can be so dehydrating as to require prompt medical attention. Life-threatening complications also may develop if the infection spreads beyond your intestines. Your risk of salmonella infection is higher if you travel to countries with poor sanitation.
Salmonella infection is usually caused by eating raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs or egg products. The incubation period ranges from several hours to two days. Most salmonella infections can be classified as gastroenteritis. Possible signs and symptoms include:
Signs and symptoms of salmonella infection generally last four to seven days, although it may take several months for your bowels to return to normal.
A few varieties of salmonella bacteria result in typhoid fever, a sometimes deadly disease that is more common in developing countries.
Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of people, animals and birds. Most people are infected with salmonella by eating foods that have been contaminated by feces. Commonly infected foods include:
Many foods become contaminated when prepared by people who don't wash their hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Infection also can occur if you touch something that is contaminated, including pets, especially birds and reptiles, then put your fingers in your mouth.
Food handlers who return to work before the infection completely clears up can continue to spread the disease. Some people who get salmonella infection become chronic carriers, meaning they continue to excrete the bacteria in their feces or, rarely, urine for a year or more after their signs and symptoms clear up. Some carriers can pass Salmonella infection without having signs or symptoms of the disease.
Factors that may increase your risk of salmonella infection include activities that may bring you into closer contact with salmonella bacteria and health problems that may weaken your resistance to infection in general.
Stomach or bowel disorders
Salmonella infection itself usually isn't life-threatening. However, in certain people — especially infants and young children, older adults, transplant recipients, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems — the development of complications can be dangerous.
Preparing for your appointment
Most people don't need to seek medical attention for a salmonella infection because it clears up on its own within a few days. However, in cases involving infants, young children, and older or immunocompromised adults, call your doctor if the illness lasts more than a few days, is associated with high fever or bloody stools, or if it appears to be causing dehydration.
If you make an appointment with your doctor, it's a good idea to prepare for it. Here's some information to help you.
What you can do
Preparing a list of questions for your doctor will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important. For salmonella infection, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions you have.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Salmonella infection can be detected by testing a sample of your stool. However, this test may not be very useful because most people have recovered from their symptoms by the time the test results return.
If your doctor suspects that you may have a salmonella infection in your bloodstream, he or she may suggest testing a sample of your blood for the bacteria.
Treatments and drugs
Lifestyle and home remedies
Even if you don't need medical attention for your salmonella infection, you need to take care not to dehydrate, a common concern with diarrhea and vomiting. Adults should drink water or suck on ice chips. For children, you can use an oral rehydration solution, such as Pedialyte, unless your doctor advises otherwise.
Salmonella infection is contagious, so take precautions to avoid spreading bacteria to others. Preventive methods are especially important when preparing food or providing care for infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems. Be sure to cook food thoroughly and refrigerate or freeze food promptly.
Wash your hands
Keep things separate
Avoid eating raw eggs
Last Updated: 2011-04-16
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