Salmonella is a common bacterium that causes infection in humans, usually through exposure to inadequately processed foods like chicken or eggs, contaminated water, and contact with animals like reptiles and amphibians. The people affected most are usually very young or have underlying immune deficiencies. The bacterium incubates for one to three days before causing symptoms.
The most common system affected by salmonella infection is the gastrointestinal tract. Patients usually exhibit bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. The diarrhea can be profuse and lead to dehydration. Severe cases can lead to anemia, although this is rare. The fever tends to be hard to control and difficult to lower with medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Abdominal cramps can be quite painful and may mimic surgical conditions like appendicitis. Treatment with antibiotics is not recommended for salmonella gastroenteritis, because it does not shorten the duration of the symptoms and can prologue the period of contagiousness.
Bacteremia means that the bacterium has spread into the bloodstream. Once this happens, Salmonella can affect several organ systems in the body. This is what is known as typhoid or enteric fever. The symptoms of bacteremia are gradual, and often include fever, headache, decrease appetite and change in mental status, like lethargy or decreased consciousness. Patients with typhoid fever can have severe abdominal pain, with liver and spleen enlargement. The fever usually worsens and becomes more persistent. Patients with typhoid can also have rose spots on their skin. For patients with typhoid fever, antibiotic therapy for about 10 days is effective in treating the disease and its symptoms.
Other Body Systems Affected
From the blood, salmonella can cause several infections. In patients with sickle cell disease, salmonella can cause osteomyelitis. This bone infection usually presents with localized pain, especially when trying to move, and fever. Although osteomyelitis usually affects the long bones of the extremities, in sickle cell patients salmonella can cause infection in any bone, including the vertebra and pelvis. Treatment for osteomyelitis includes intravenous antibiotics, usually for four to six weeks.
Salmonella can also cause meningitis, which is an infection of the tissues surrounding the brain and central nervous system. Although rare, salmonella meningitis can have disastrous consequences, especially in infants.