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October 3, 2012 at 5:11 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Salmonella in the News! Here's What You Need to Know

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

Turning on the news lately, there's been an over-abundance of articles about salmonella, an infection which causes horrible, bloody diarrhea. Infections can be serious, even deadly.

Here are the facts about salmonella and what you need to know to prevent getting it.

Headline: Pet Turtles Blamed for Salmonella Cases

Really, this is not new news. It has been known for decades that baby turtles carry salmonella. The sale of turtles with shells less than four inches was banned in America in 1975 due to salmonella risk. What IS new is that lately, there has been a resurgence of black market sales of baby pet turtles. Blame the economy.

People are likely capitalizing on the abundance and cuteness of baby turtles, selling them unregulated. The Center for Disease Control reported 200 cases last month from turtles, a sharp increase. Kids are particularly susceptible and contract salmonella by touching the turtle and then touching food or their mouth directly. For turtles, salmonella is a "normal flora" meaning that it is present without causing an infection. In humans, however, it is another story.

The Bottom Line: It is better to leave the baby turtles in the pond. If you handle a baby turtle, wash your hands before touching food or your mouth.

Headline: Drug Resistant Salmonella Outbreak in Africa

A particularly nasty strain of salmonella has recently been found in The Congo of Africa and beyond. Due to its resistance to several of the usual antibiotics used to treat the infection, this form of salmonella is deadly. Adding to the problem, the high number of those with HIV are more susceptible.The epidemic is spreading.

Could it reach America?

Strains of salmonella genetically linked to those of Africa have been found in England and related to human travel. Thus, the answer is yes. But for now, salmonella is relatively easy to treat in America and rarely fatal.

Headline: Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Cantaloupe

Over the summer salmonella was reported in 270 people across 26 states. Three deaths were reported. The source was found to be cantaloupe from U.S. farms. These such outbreaks have occurred from time to time-- peanut butter, ground beef, tomatoes and many other foods. The biggest source, however, is chicken and eggs which is commonly known.

Salmonella is a normal finding in chicken feces. As such, it is easily found on egg shells and in chicken meat. When cooking with these high-risk products, it should be assumed that salmonella is present.

  • Eggs: Cook eggs and chicken properly. Avoid eating pink chicken and runny eggs. And, as difficult as this may be, avoid eating that tasty cake batter with the raw eggs.
  • Milk: Only consume milk products that are pasteurized (heated to a certain degree as to kill contaminating bacteria).
  • Produce:Wash vegetables thoroughly. If you are susceptible to infection, take extra precaution (diabetes, chronic use of steroids, lacking a spleen, on chemotherapy). Those with sickle cell disease are particularly susceptible to salmonella.

In Conclusion...

Salmonella infections occur from time to time. While it can be fatal, this is uncommon in America, in those with normal immune systems. Simple precautions when preparing food can significantly reduce risk of infection. Oh, and leave the baby turtles in their ponds.

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