Salmonella (Salmonellosis)

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 22, 2024
7 min read

Salmonella is a bacteria that can make you sick when you eat food contaminated with it. The illness is called salmonellosis or salmonella infection, and it's very common. There are over a million cases of salmonella infection in the United States each year, according to the CDC. Symptoms include an upset stomach, diarrhea, fever, and pain and cramping in your belly. Most people get better on their own at home within 3 to 7 days.

Salmonella and E. coli are similar kinds of bacteria, but they belong to different families. They differ in their sources and severity. 

Salmonella. You can get this through undercooked poultry, eggs, meat, and sometimes produce. It can also be spread through contact with infected animals, like reptiles and birds.

E. coli. This bacteria can be found in contaminated beef, unpasteurized milk and juice, and produce. It can also be spread by feces (poop) from humans and animals.

Symptoms. Both cause digestive issues like diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever, cramps, and nausea.

Severity. Both can cause unpleasant illness. But certain strains of E. coli can lead to more serious health problems and complications, like kidney failure. 


People and animals can carry salmonella in their intestines and their feces. The bacteria often spread through contaminated foods. Common food sources of salmonella infection include:

  • Raw and undercooked meat, including chicken, turkey, duck, beef, veal, and pork
  • Raw fruits or vegetables
  • Unpasteurized milk and other dairy products, including soft cheese, ice cream, and yogurt
  • Raw or undercooked eggs
  • Processed foods like chicken nuggets and nut butters

You can also get salmonella directly through:

  • Poor handwashing. You might pass along the bacteria by not washing your hands well after using the bathroom or changing a diaper.
  • Pets. Animals like dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles can carry the bacteria.

Salmonella in chicken

Chicken is one of the biggest sources of salmonella infection. According to the CDC, one in 25 packages of chicken at the grocery store have salmonella in them. You can get salmonella from chicken if it’s not cooked properly, or if juice from raw chicken gets on a surface and food you eat touches it. 


Children, especially those under 5, are more likely than adults to get sick from salmonella. Older adults and people with weak immune systems are also more likely to be infected. Other risk factors include:

International travel. Salmonella is more common in places with poor sanitation.

Taking certain drugs. Cancer drugs or steroids can weaken your immune system. Antacids lower how much acid is in your stomach, which makes it easier for salmonella to survive there. Antibiotics can kill “good” bacteria in your body and make an infection harder to fight.

Immune problems. You’re also at risk if you live with a disease that decreases your immune function, such as HIV, sickle cell disease, or malaria.

Inflammatory bowel disease. This can damage the lining of your intestines, making it easier for salmonella to take hold.

Most of the signs and symptoms of a salmonella infection are stomach-related. They include:

Salmonella incubation period

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning tend to start 12 to 96 hours after an infection. In some cases, it could be up to a week.

When should I call a doctor?

See your doctor if you’re still having general symptoms more than a week after first getting the infection.

A young child, an older adult, or someone who has a weakened immune system should see a doctor if they have any of these symptoms:

  • Bloody poop
  • An ongoing high fever
  • Dehydration, when they’ve lost too much fluid. Signs include peeing only in small amounts, a dry mouth, and sunken eyes.


You can become dehydrated if you don’t get enough fluids to replace what you lose because of diarrhea.

A few people who get a salmonella infection also get pain in their joints. You might hear a doctor call it reactive arthritis or Reiter’s syndrome. It can last several months or longer. This condition can also cause pain while peeing and itchy, stinging, or sore eyes.

If the salmonella infection gets into your blood, it can infect other parts of your body, including:

  • The tissues around your brain and spinal cord
  • The lining of your heart or heart valves
  • Your bones or bone marrow
  • The lining of your blood vessels


Your doctor can usually diagnose a salmonella infection by listening to your symptoms. They might also test a sample of your poop. But it's likely that you'll be feeling better by the time your results come back from the lab. If you don't get better within a week, your doctor might want to do more tests, like blood tests, to see if something else is causing your illness. 

Treatment for salmonella poisoning usually focuses on rehydrating your body and restoring lost electrolytes, which are minerals that help balance the level of fluids in your body. 

If you have diarrhea, drink a lot of water and other fluids. Your doctor might suggest that you drink a rehydration liquid like Pedialyte

If your dehydration is severe, your doctor may want to get fluids directly into your system through an IV.

Salmonella medications

Most people recover from salmonella without medication. But if your case is severe or long-lasting, your doctor might recommend:

Anti-diarrheal medication, such as loperamide (Imodium). These medications help relieve cramping and slow down the speed that fluids and stool move through your bowels so you have less diarrhea and more formed stools. 

Antibiotics mightbe prescribed for severe illness.

When two or more people get salmonella from the same food or drink source, it’s called an outbreak.

In the event of a salmonella outbreak, be sure to:

  • Know which type of food is involved in the contamination and avoid it. If you have some at home, throw it away or take it back to the store where you bought it. 
  • Wash any surface the food may have touched using hot soapy water or your dishwasher.
  • Monitor yourself for symptoms and call your doctor if you have diarrhea, fever, or vomiting.

If you’re pregnant and get a salmonella infection, there is a very rare chance it could cause miscarriage. In about 4% of cases, a salmonella infection causes bacteremia, a condition that causes bacteria in the bloodstream and can lead to a pregnancy loss.

It's also rare but possible that you could pass a salmonella infection to your baby in the womb. If your baby is born with salmonella, they can have meningitis that causes swelling around their brain and spinal cord.

In most cases, you don't need to stop breastfeeding if you get salmonella, but you should talk to your doctor first. 

Salmonella can hide in a variety of foods, but you can do a lot of things to help ensure the bacteria stay away:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs or meat.
  • Don’t eat or drink anything with unpasteurized milk or juice.
  • Don’t wash raw poultry, meat, or eggs before cooking. Washing can spread bacteria to other items and places in your kitchen.
  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables well, and peel them if possible.
  • Don’t prepare food for other people if you’re vomiting or have diarrhea.
  • Refrigerate food properly, both before cooking it and after serving it.
  • Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after handling food.
  • Keep kitchen surfaces clean before preparing food on them.
  • Don’t mix cooked food with raw food or use the same utensils to prepare them. For example, don’t use the same knife to cut raw chicken and then to slice mushrooms, and use different plates or cutting boards to slice them on.
  • Cook meat to its correct minimum temperature. Use a food thermometer to be sure.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after touching animals, their toys, and their bedding.

Salmonella is a bacteria that can infect you if you eat contaminated food or handle an animal that has it. It causes diarrhea, a fever, upset stomach, and cramping. Treatment involves rehydrating yourself and, in some cases, diarrhea medication or antibiotics. Symptoms typically go away within 3-7 days. 

How long are you contagious with salmonella?

You can spread salmonella to other people as long as the bacteria is still in your body. This may be several days or as long as several months. If you take antibiotics, this can increase the amount of time the bacteria stays in your system. 

How long does salmonella live on surfaces?

If salmonella gets onto a countertop or other surface in your home, it can live for up to 32 hours.