(NEXSTAR) – A recent multistate outbreak of salmonella is prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to urge members of the public to monitor for possible symptoms if they believe they have been infected.
The CDC estimates that salmonella bacteria causes roughly “1.3 million infections every year,” according to Belsie González, a master of public health and the senior public affairs specialist for the CDC. Of those cases, about 420 per year are fatal, the agency estimates.
But salmonella is far from the only foodborne germ that causes frequent illnesses in the U.S. Several others, including norovirus, campylobacter, vibrio and staphylococcus can be contracted through contaminated food. Listeria, E. Coli and clostridium botulinum, while less common, can cause even more severe illnesses.
In total, the CDC estimates that 48 million people in the U.S. — or about 1 in 6 — suffer from some form of food poisoning each year.
Many symptoms of foodborne illnesses are similar, with cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea being among the most common. But some are much more severe, and indicate a possible life-threatening infection.
“Some types of foodborne illness are more likely to cause severe disease, such as shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), while others may pose increased risk for specifics populations,” a representative for the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases tells Nexstar. “For example, pregnant women are 10 times more likely than other people to get listeria infection.”
Symptoms of salmonella infections, specifically, often begin to show between six hours and six days after swallowing the bacteria. Diarrhea, fever, vomiting and stomach cramps are common. Infected individuals are urged to contact a healthcare provider, especially if symptoms worsen to include bloody diarrhea (or diarrhea that lasts for more than three days), fever of over 102 degrees F, frequent vomiting that prevents the ingestion of liquids and any sign of dehydration.
Sickened individuals may also be able to narrow down their specific illness based on what they’ve eaten, as salmonella is commonly caused by ingesting undercooked chicken or turkey, eggs, unpasteurized milk or juice, or raw produce. People may also be infected after handling certain animals, including poultry, reptiles or amphibians, or rodents.
Other types of symptoms, meanwhile, may be more indicative of different, or more serious foodborne illnesses. For instance, foodborne botulism, caused by botulinum toxins, may result in slurred speech or blurred vision as well as paralysis, among other symptoms, and common sources include improperly canned foods. Listeria, which can be caused by ingesting contaminated deli meats, soft cheeses and raw sprouts (among other contaminated items) can produce flu-like symptoms and confusion.
Severe cases of any foodborne illness may require hospitalization. Some may even lead to serious health problems, including arthritis, brain or nerve damage, kidney failure, or even death.
When it comes to salmonella, most people recover without treatment, health officials say.
“But antibiotics can be used to treat people who have severe illness or who are at risk for severe illness, such as people with weakened immune systems, infants, or adults age 65 or older,” according to a representative for the CDC.
As with any illness that produces severe or long-lasting symptoms, those suffering from what they suspect to be a foodborne illness are urged to contact their healthcare professionals. In certain cases, doctors may advise testing to determine which bacteria, virus or parasite is responsible, to better diagnose and treat the infection.
The CDC, as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also strongly encourage the public to remain educated on the types of foods that may cause infection, along with all current food-safety guidelines, in order to prevent infection in the first place.
“Foodborne illness is a common, costly, sometimes life-threatening — yet largely preventable — public health problem,” the FDA notes on its website.