1. ITV Report

What is salmonella and how can you prevent it?

Dozens of people across the country have been taken ill with salmonella - with health bosses now concerned the outbreaks may be linked.

But until then, here's how to spot food poisoning - and what you can do to prevent it.

What is salmonella?

  • It is a strain of bacteria that causes gastrointestinal illness, typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever
  • More than 2,500 strains have been identified around the world
  • The bacteria can be found in uncooked meat, seafood, poultry and eggs
  • Anyone can get a salmonella infection - but the elderly, infants and people with impaired immune systems have an increased risk of becoming seriously ill
Salmonella is usually transmitted through contaminated food Credit: NHS

What are the symptoms?

  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

These symptoms usually last for four to seven days and clear up without treatment, but if you become seriously ill you may need to be treated for dehydration caused by the illness.

However, it can on occasion lead to more serious illness and you should seek advice from your GP if you have any of the following:

  • Vomiting that lasts for more than two days
  • Not being able to keep liquids down for more than a day
  • Diarrhoea that lasts for more than three days or is bloody
  • Fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or over
  • Symptoms of severe dehydration, such as sunken eyes and passing small quantities of dark, strong smelling urine
More than 2,500 strains of salmonella have been found worldwide Credit: PA

How do you catch it?

Transmission occurs by eating contaminated food, mainly of animal origin, or by faecal contamination from an infected person or animal.

Foods which are particularly likely to be contaminated are:

  • Raw meat and poultry
  • Raw eggs
  • Raw shellfish
  • Unpasteurised milk
  • 'Ready to eat' foods, such as cooked sliced meats, pâté, soft cheeses and pre-packed sandwiches

Food can be contaminated in a number of ways:

  • Not cooking food thoroughly (particularly poultry, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs)
  • Not storing food that needs to be chilled at below 5°C correctly
  • Leaving cooked food for too long at warm temperatures
  • Someone who is ill or who has dirty hands touching the food
  • Eating food that has passed its ‘use by’ date
  • Cross-contamination (the spread of bacteria, such as E. coli, from contaminated foods)
It is usually transmitted through contaminated food Credit: PA

How can you treat it?

Most people with food poisoning get better without the need for treatment, but you can help to ease your symptoms by resting and drinking plenty of fluids.

Try to drink as much water as you can, even if you can only sip it, particularly every time you pass diarrhoea. Dehydration will make you feel worse and means your recovery will take longer.

It is best to avoid food altogether until you feel much better - and even then, choose foods which are easily digestible, such as toast.

Oral rehydration salts (ORSs) are recommended for vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those with another health condition.

These help replace salt, glucose and other important minerals lost through dehydration. They are available in sachets from pharmacies and you dissolve them in water to drink.