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Salmonella In Kids: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment And Prevention

Salmonella In Kids

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Salmonellosis or salmonella infection is a bacterial infection affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Most children may get this infection from contaminated food or water. Although salmonella may cause mild gastroenteritis in children, it can be life-threatening, depending on the child’s health status and salmonella serotype.

Basic food safety practices, such as cooking food thoroughly and washing hands with soap and water, could prevent salmonellosis. Read this post to know about the signs, causes, risk factors, complications, treatment, and prevention of salmonella infection in children.

Signs And Symptoms Of Salmonella Infection

The onset of symptoms and signs may occur 12 to 72 hours after contracting salmonella. However, the symptoms can begin within six hours or after several weeks in some children. The common signs and symptoms of a salmonella infection may include the following (1).

  • Stomach 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 humans and animals. 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 contract salmonella through the following sources (2).

  • Consumption of raw eggs; homemade mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce may contain raw unpasteurized eggs. 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 and 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 lets salmonella survive
  • Conditions that cause low immunity, such as AIDS, corticosteroid use, antirejection 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 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 may order laboratory analysis of stool samples to identify salmonella. 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.

Salmonella is one of the major causes of diarrheal illness in children. It is crucial to complete the course of antibiotic treatment even though the child does not have symptoms since some salmonella serotypes are already antibiotic-resistant. Food can be contaminated at production, storage, or during preparation. You may always ask your child to eat from vendors and restaurants following food safety guidelines. Practicing food safety at home is also essential to prevent salmonellosis and other food-borne illnesses. 

References:

MomJunction's health articles are written after analyzing various scientific reports and assertions from expert authors and institutions. Our references (citations) 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