Salmonella Infection In Kids: Signs, Causes, And Treatment

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Salmonellosis or salmonella infection spreads from contaminated food and occurs due to Salmonella bacteria that affect the gastrointestinal tract. Salmonellosis in children occurs from infection induced by consuming contaminated food (mostly poultry, meat, eggs, or milk) or water. Although the bacteria only causes mild stomach flu in children, it may become fatal if the child’s health is already compromised. The complications can also depend on the salmonella serotype.

Preventive measures include good food practices such as thoroughly cooking food and washing hands with water and soap before eating. Read through to know more about salmonella infection in children, including its causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Signs And Symptoms Of Salmonella Infection

Salmonellosis symptoms can take from six to 72 hours to start after someone ingests the bacteria. In most people, the illness lasts for 4 to 7 days after symptoms begin. The common signs and symptoms of a salmonella infection may include the following (1).

  • Abdominal  cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Blood in stool
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Headache

Salmonellosis may last up to two to seven days. Although the other symptoms disappear, the bacteria may take more time to clear from the body.

Causes Of Salmonella Infection

Salmonella bacteria live in the intestines of people, animals and birds. Most children may get the bacteria from eating contaminated food. Nontyphoidal salmonella may cause self-limiting gastroenteritis (stomach flu). At the same time, Salmonella typhi may cause enteric fever (typhoid fever).

A child may get salmonella through the following sources (2).

  • Consumption of raw eggs; homemade mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce. Although eggshells are a barrier, the infected chicken may produce eggs with salmonella even before the shell is formed.
  • Seafood harvested from contaminated water can have salmonella.
  • Meat and poultry may get contaminated with feces during the butchering process.
  • Vegetables and fruits may get contaminated from water in the field or during washing.
  • Uncooked or cooked foods, vegetables, and salads could become cross-contaminated in the kitchen by contaminated cutting boards, knives, and other utensils.
  • Person-to-person transmission may occur through the fecal-oral route, especially if an infected person does not wash hands after using the toilet.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also reported cases of salmonellosis through contaminated spices. Any food product can be contaminated with salmonella if the safety regimes are not followed while processing it.

Risk Factors

The following factors may increase the risk of developing salmonellosis in children (3).

  • Traveling to areas with poor sanitation
  • Having pet birds or reptiles
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders that cause damaged intestinal lining, which is favorable for bacteria
  • Recent antibiotic use may reduce intestinal flora and impair their ability to fight salmonella
  • Excess antacid use reduces stomach acidity and allows more salmonella to survive
  • Conditions that cause low immunity, such as AIDS, corticosteroid use, anti-rejection drug treatment after transplant, and sickle cell disease

Problems with the body’s natural defense system may allow the growth of salmonella in the gastrointestinal tract. Children with immunity-related issues may have more severe and prolonged salmonellosis than other children.

Complications

Young children and children with weakened immune systems may have an increased risk of developing the following complications (3) (4).

  • Dehydration
  • Bacteremia
  • Meningitis
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Endocarditis
  • Reiter’s syndrome or reactive arthritis

Intestinal bleeding, perforation, and neurological complications are commonly seen in typhoidal infections. Nontyphoidal salmonellosis often results in dehydration more than other issues.

When To Consult A Doctor?

You may call the pediatrician if your child has symptoms of salmonellosis. Seek immediate medical care in the following situations (5).

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Signs of dehydration, such as increased thirst, dry mouth, reduced urine, and dizziness
  • Severe diarrhea for more than two days
  • Lethargy
  • Unconsciousness

Diagnosis

Symptoms can be suggestive of salmonella infection. Doctors might ask you for a stool sample, which can be sent to a lab and tested for Salmonella bacteria. Multiple samples are often evaluated. Blood tests and blood culture are usually requested for children with fever and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Treatment For Salmonella Infection

Some children may get better without specific medications, and doctors may advise them to consume more fluids to balance the loss. Oral intake of electrolyte solutions is often recommended to prevent dehydration. Hospitalization and intravenous (IV) fluid are required for severe cases (6).

Children with severe symptoms may receive antibiotics prescription. However, the illness may last longer for some children due to antibiotics. Although the symptoms disappear, children should take antibiotics as per prescription to reduce the recurrence.

Salmonella may take several weeks to clear from the body even after the clinical signs go away.

It is not recommended to give diarrheal medications without prescription since the bacteria may not be eliminated from the body if diarrhea is stopped and illness may become prolonged.

Prevention Of Salmonella Infection

The following tips may reduce the risk of salmonella infection in children (7).

  • Practicing good hand hygiene. Washing hands with soap under running water before eating and after using the bathroom may reduce contamination
  • Peel or wash fruits and vegetables before eating.
  • Clean utensils and cutting boards with soap and hot water.
  • Disinfect kitchen counters with disinfectants or bleach.
  • Avoid consuming undercooked and uncooked poultry and meat.
  • Use a thermometer to know the cooking temperature of poultry and meat and follow the recommended cooking temperatures.
  • Get a typhoid vaccine before traveling to high-risk areas.
  • Wash hands after touching pets, birds, reptiles, and pet feces.
  • Prevent cross-contamination of raw meat with cooked food or utensils. Store raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods in the refrigerator.
  • Avoid consumption of raw eggs. In case if your child wants to consume raw eggs, give them pasteurized eggs.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which antibiotics are used to treat salmonella?

Azithromycin is the antibiotic used as the first line of treatment for salmonella infection in children. Ceftriaxone is an alternative first-line treatment option in cases of severe infection (8).

2. Can probiotics help in fighting salmonella infection?

According to experts, the guided use of probiotics can help prevent or treat salmonellosis (9). Speak to your doctor before using a probiotic supplement to treat or manage your child’s salmonella infection to ensure its safety and efficacy.

Salmonellosis in children can be contracted by consuming contaminated food or raw eggs and person-to-person transmission. It is a common diarrheal illness in children and may cause complications such as dehydration and meningitis in those with weak immune systems. If your child experiences bloody diarrhea, lethargy, or unconsciousness, seek medical advice promptly. Some children do better without medicines, while others may need antibiotics. In the latter case, completing the course of antibiotic treatment is essential even if the symptoms have disappeared because Salmonella takes several days to clear from the body. Children should also maintain good hygiene and only eat at restaurants that follow the food safety guidelines.

Key Pointers

  • Consuming raw eggs, contaminated meat or eggs, and uncooked vegetables or salads are common causes of salmonella infection in children.
  • Some signs of salmonella infection are fever, blood in the stool, and chills.
  • Meningitis, endocarditis, or dehydration are some common complications of this disease.
  • If you notice signs of lethargy or unconsciousness, consult your doctor.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Salmonella Infections; Healthychildren; The American Academy of Pediatrics
2. Salmonellosis; C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital
3. Salmonella Infection; St. Clair Hospital
4. Salmonella Infections; Johns Hopkins Medicine
5. Salmonella Infection (Salmonellosis) in Children; Fairview
6. Salmonella; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
7. Bacterial & Viral Infections; Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego
8. Advice to Clinicians; CDC
9. Probiotics stop Salmonella in its tracks; European Commission
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Dr. Dur Afshar Agha

(MS)
Dr. Dur Afshar Agha is a consultant pediatrician with decades of experience in various medical facilities both in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. She has headed the Department of Preventive Pediatrics at the prestigious, Children’s Hospital and Institute of Child Health in Pakistan and is a life member of the Pakistan Paediatric Association. She has also completed her Post Graduate Program... more

Swati Patwal

Swati Patwal is a clinical nutritionist and toddler mom with over eight years of experience in diverse fields of nutrition. She started her career as a CSR project coordinator for a healthy eating and active lifestyle project catering to school children. Then she worked as a nutrition faculty and clinical nutrition coach in different organizations. Her interest in scientific writing... more

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