Salmonella: What you need to know

Multistate salmonella outbreak linked to pre-cut melon, CDC says

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that a multistate outbreak of salmonella was linked to pre-cut melon.

Salmonella is one of the most common types of food poisoning caused by bacteria.

It is often the result of eating meat that has been undercooked or food that has been contaminated in the handling process.

Steven Gordon, M.D., with the Cleveland Clinic, said a person's symptoms are usually self-treatable, but they can be different for everyone.

"Most patients with salmonella actually don't need to be treated and will have a self-limiting course," he said. "But, it can also cause other consequences, including consequences outside of the gastrointestinal track, such as arthritis, reactive arthritis and things of this nature."

Salmonella is typically brief, with stomach cramps and diarrhea that can last anywhere from four to seven days.

However, it may take a few months before a person's bowel system is back to normal.

While salmonella is not typically life-threatening, the CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the United States every year.

READ: CDC report on salmonella infections linked to pre-cut melon

In severe cases, salmonella bacteria can get into the bloodstream and travel to the liver, kidneys or other organs. When this happens, the person must be treated with antibiotics. If treatment is not started soon enough, the infection can cause death. 

Salmonella is more common in the summer months than in the winter and is also more likely to affect children.

Dr. Gordon said salmonella bacteria can live in the digestive tract of humans and other animals, and can be passed out of the intestines through stool.

Eating undercooked beef, poultry and seafood, as well as foods that contain raw eggs, puts a person at high risk of contracting salmonella.

Also, eating food that was prepared on surfaces that were in contact with raw meat, such as a cutting board or countertop is dangerous.

Gordon said even though we often hear about salmonella in the news on a large scale, it often happens at home.

"If I went into your kitchen what kind of rating would you get?  Is your hot water hot? When you prepare your food, such as the raw hamburger, are you cutting the vegetables and then maybe cutting the meat with the same uh utensil without cleaning? That's what we say cross contamination," he said.

Gordon said the most important things people can do to stay safe at home are wash their hands before preparing food, thoroughly cook food, avoid cross-contamination, and avoid touching certain animals like turtles, snakes, chicks and baby birds that can easily transmit the bacteria.