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Salmonella food poisoning is a bacterial infection that causes inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis). The causative bacteria is called Salmonella. While domestic and wild animals, including poultry, pigs, cattle, and pets such as turtles, iguanas, chicks, dogs, and cats can transmit this illness, most people become infected by ingesting foods contaminated with significant amounts of the causative bacteria.
Improperly handled or undercooked poultry and eggs are the foods which most frequently cause salmonella food poisoning. Chickens are a major carrier of salmonella bacteria, which accounts for its prominence in poultry products. However, identifying foods which may be contaminated with salmonella is particularly difficult
At one time, it was thought that salmonella bacteria were only found in eggs which had cracked, thus allowing the bacteria to enter. Ultimately, it was learned that, because the egg shell has tiny pores, even uncracked eggs which sat for a time on a surface (nest) contaminated with salmonella could themselves become contaminated. It is known also that the bacteria can be passed from the infected female chicken directly into the substance of the egg before the shell has formed around it.
Anyone may contract salmonella food poisoning, but the disease is most serious in infants, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. In these individuals, the infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body sites, causing death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics. In addition, people who have had part or all of their stomach or their spleen removed or who have sickle cell anemia, cirrhosis of the liver, leukemia, lymphoma, malaria, louse-borne relapsing fever, or acquired Immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) are particularly susceptible to salmonella food poisoning.
Author Info: Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt MD, Thomson Gale, Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Children's Health, 2006
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