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Prevent salmonella infection at home

February 26, 2007|by JULIE E. GREENE

The recent salmonella scare involving peanut butter shows that consumers can take precautions at home and still consume illness-causing bacteria.

However, that doesn't mean they should stop taking preventative steps of their own.

Every year about 40,000 cases of salmonellosis are reported in the U.S., though many mild cases are not diagnosed or reported, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the very least, the illness is discomforting, with major symptoms being diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. At its most serious, the infection can result in death - about 600 deaths a year in the U.S., according to the CDC.

Salmonellosis is an infection caused by salmonella, a group of bacteria that live in the intestine and usually pass from to person to person through the feces of people or other animals.

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How we become ill

Food can become contaminated with salmonella through processing or by handlers, including consumers, who touch food without having properly washed their hands, medical officials said.

Food also can become contaminated in the home by improper storage or handling.

Here are some tips from Elizabeth Nuckles, communicable disease program manager for the Washington County Health Department, to prevent salmonellosis:

· Keep the refrigerator clean and watch for cross-contamination, such as the juice from thawing chicken dripping onto produce.

· Thoroughly rinse produce to wash off dirt and bacteria.

· Make sure hands and preparation surfaces are clean before preparing a meal, and wash your hands after handling raw meat or equipment that touched raw meat.

· When preparing a meal, use different knives and cutting boards for cutting raw meat and raw vegetables. Some studies suggest wooden cutting boards hold more bacteria than plastic or glass ones.

Some people dedicate one cutting board for use with raw meats only, said Dr. Mahesh Krishnamoorthy, an internist with Robinwood Internal Medicine at Robinwood Medical Center.

· If you are using a plate and utensil to carry and handle raw meat to a grill, don't use the same plate and utensil once the meat is cooked.

· Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm, not runny.

· Don't drink nonpasteurized milk.

· Wash your hands with soap and water after handling reptiles, their cages or anything they've touched. Reptiles such as snakes, turtles, iguanas and other lizards are known to have salmonella on their bodies.

· Cook meat to the proper internal temperature. For roast and steaks, that's 145 degrees; pork, 160 degrees; poultry, 165 degrees; and ground beef, at least 160 degrees. If you do not have a meat thermometer to stick inside the meat, make sure the meat is not pink inside.

While many people enjoy eating rare beef, they are taking a risk of contracting salmonellosis or other intestinal infections, Nuckles said.

Diagnosis and treatment

A clue that a person might have a food-borne illness such as salmonellosis is the sudden onset of diarrhea, said Dr. Mahesh Krishnamoorthy, an internist with Robinwood Internal Medicine at Robinwood Medical Center.

Severe diarrhea can be characterized by frequent diarrhea, diarrhea accompanied by feeling ill, or diarrhea accompanied by fever and abdominal cramps.

Diarrhea is associated with many illnesses, but people who have severe diarrhea should contact their doctor about getting tested for gastrointestinal bacteria such as salmonella, Krishnamoorthy said. The most common way to confirm an acute intestinal illness such as salmonellosis is to have a stool sample tested. It's important to treat the symptoms immediately rather than waiting for test results, which can take days to receive.

The most important thing for people with severe diarrhea is to stay hydrated.

Krishnamoorthy recommends sports drinks such as Gatorade that can help replenish electrolytes - chloride, potassium and sodium - that the body loses through diarrhea or vomiting. For this task, these beverages are better than water or soda.

Avoid caffeinated beverages such as soda, coffee and tea because caffeine can exacerbate the condition, medical experts said.

Eat bland foods, which will be easier for inflamed intestines to digest than foods containing a lot of protein and fat. Eating chicken noodle soup would be better than eating a piece of chicken.

Resting and maintaining good sanitary practices also are important, Krishnamoorthy said.

For most healthy people, the diarrhea from salmonellosis will run its course within a week. Antibiotics are usually reserved for people with severe salmonellosis or who have compromised immune systems, Krishnamoorthy said. Antibiotics won't necessarily shorten the duration of the salmonellosis or make people feel better faster.

People with severe dehydration or whose infection has spread into the bloodstream can require hospitalization, Nuckles said.

In rare instances, salmonellosis can lead to long-term complications such as chronic diarrhea or constipation, or cardiac, lung or bone problems, Krishnamoorthy said.

Some people might develop Reiter's syndrome, whose symptoms include pains in the joints, irritation of the eyes and painful urination, according to the CDC. This can last for months or years and can lead to chronic arthritis.

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