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Quiz: How smart are you about salmonella?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  March 14, 2013 10:12 AM

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Thumbnail image for frogs.jpgJust this week a study was released in the journal Pediatrics about an outbreak of salmonella linked to African dwarf frogs--all of which were traced back to a common breeding facility. It's got me talking to people about salmonella--and I've found that many people don't know very much at all about this bacterial illness. 

To check out your salmonella smarts, try this quiz. Are these statements true or false?

Salmonella is a common illness.

True. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year 42,000 cases are reported--but because many cases aren't reported or even diagnosed, they estimate that the number of actual cases could be up to 29 times that much (not sure where the 29 comes from, but that's what they say). And every year, about 400 people die from the illness.

Salmonella just gives you diarrhea.

False. While the vast majority of salmonella infections stay in the intestine and give you diarrhea, the bacteria can spread into other parts of the body including the gallbladder, blood and bones, especially in people who have weakened immune systems. It can also cause a problems with the joints, eyes and with urination that can last months or years, although that's rare.

Children are most likely to get it.

True. Kids put their hands everywhere, don't always wash them, and put their hands in their mouths...and so are more likely to catch germs generally. The majority of cases are in children under the age of 4. Anyone can get it, though.

Frogs are the only pet that carry salmonella.

False. The bacteria can live in the intestines of lots of different animals, so any exposure to animal poop is risky. Turtles and baby chicks are common sources of infection, which is why these are not recommended pets if you've got a baby or little kid in the house--and why everyone should wash their hands immediately after touching these animals. Outbreaks have been linked to pet food, too. 

Pets are the most common source of infection.

False. Contaminated food is the most common source of infection, including chicken, beef, eggs and dairy (including unpasteurized milk). That's why it's really important that all food be cooked very well (the CDC recommends that if you are at a restaurant and food doesn't seem fully cooked, you should send it back!). Infected people can spread it to any food they touch, though, and it can contaminate water, which is why there have been outbreaks associated with vegetables and even baby formula.

It's really important to wash any surfaces you leave raw meat on--and wash your hands really well after handling raw foods. The CDC also warns against handling raw meat and handling a baby at the same time (e.g. don't cut up your chicken and then change a diaper without some serious hand washing in between).

If you get salmonella, you need antibiotics.

False--mostly. The vast majority of cases of diarrhea caused by salmonella go away by themselves within a week or so without antibiotics. In fact, antibiotics can actually make the bacteria hang around in the intestine longer. 

However, if the bacteria travel outside the intestine, antibiotics are needed. They are also recommended in really young infants, people with weakened immune systems and people with certain other health problems.

The two best things you can do to prevent salmonella are wash your hands and make sure your food is washed well and fully cooked.

True. It won't prevent every case of salmonella, but it will prevent a lot--and it will prevent a lot of other infections, too (especially the hand washing part).

To learn more about salmonella and how to prevent it, visit the Salmonella page of the CDC website.

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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