Salmonella is a type of bacteria that’s infamously spread by eating food infected with the bacteria.
Salmonella infections are highly contagious. They’re also known as salmonellosis. A person, animal, or object carrying the bacteria can all expose you to salmonellosis.
Symptoms of salmonellosis can include:
- losing your appetite
- cramps in your abdomen
- severe headaches
- feeling nauseous
- throwing up
- blood in your poop
Salmonella bacteria cause infections via fecal-oral transmission. This happens when food, water, or objects carrying bacteria from poop, either human or animal, come into contact with your mouth.
Eating raw or undercooked meat is the most common way Salmonella is spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 94 percent of salmonellosis cases result from food. This includes:
Raw meat can carry fecal bacteria that was present on the animal before it was slaughtered. Eggs from a contaminated bird can also carry Salmonella bacteria. Eating raw eggs in particular increases the risk of Salmonella infection.
Unwashed fruits and vegetables can carry fecal bacteria as well. Bacteria can infect fruits and vegetables through fertilizer or contaminated water. Bacteria can also come from the waste of animals close to where the fruits or vegetables were grown.
Some animals can also carry Salmonella bacteria, such as:
- baby chickens
- pet or wild dogs
- domestic or feral cats
Salmonellosis is very contagious. It can be spread by someone who’s contracted it even if they aren’t showing any symptoms or have undergone successful antibiotic treatment.
Sharing saliva or mouth-to-mouth contact with someone who’s carrying the bacteria can transmit them. Kissing and sexual activities that expose you to fecal bacteria, such as anal sex, can all make you vulnerable to contracting the bacteria, too.
Sharing items that carry the bacteria can also transmit them, including:
- utensils, like forks or spoons
- water bottles
- lip balm
Putting an object in your mouth that was touched by someone with an active infection can also spread salmonellosis.
Salmonellosis symptoms usually last for about four to seven days. A person can still transmit the bacteria for several weeks after symptoms fade, and even several months later.
The North Dakota Department of Health notes about 1 percent of adults and 5 percent of babies who contract Salmonella still have traces of the bacteria in their stool for a year or longer.
Most Salmonella bacteria live on dry surfaces for up to four hours before they’re no longer infectious. But Salmonella’s survival rate also depends on its species. A 2003 study found that Salmonella enteritidis can survive for four days in high enough amounts to still lead to illness.
You typically carry Salmonella bacteria in your body for 12 to 72 hours before you show symptoms. Some bacteria may not cause symptoms for months.
Once salmonellosis takes hold, you’ll start experiencing symptoms rather suddenly.
The best way to prevent salmonellosis is by taking measures to minimize your exposure to Salmonella bacteria. Do the following to keep yourself from contracting the bacteria. These tips will also avoid transmitting salmonellosis to others if you already have it:
- Don’t share anything with someone who has salmonellosis. Also, don’t share anything of yours that touches your hands or mouth when you have it.
- Don’t kiss or have sex if you or the other person has contracted the bacteria.
- Avoid sharing anything that’s touched your mouth with anyone else until you’re certain you’re no longer carrying the bacteria.
- Wash your hands immediately after handling animals like reptiles, amphibians, livestock like cows and horses, and both feral and pet animals.
- Clean any surface that’s come into contact with raw meat or other raw foods that may carry bacteria.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after touching raw meat or unwashed fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t drink any raw, unpasteurized, or unpurified liquids, especially milk and water.
- Cook meat, eggs, and other animal products thoroughly to kill bacteria through heat.
- Refrigerate foods immediately after purchasing or preparing them.
- Check for food recall notices regularly at your local grocery stores. The websites for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control also provide recall information.
- Throw away any food or dump any water that you suspect may be contaminated.
Salmonella is highly contagious. Avoid kissing, touching, and sexual activity until you’re fully clear of the bacteria.
Seek emergency medical attention if you start experiencing symptoms of salmonellosis. Keep seeing your doctor regularly after your symptoms have faded to test for the presence of the bacteria until they’re gone.