Making a BBQ? Know About the Risks of Salmonella in Pregnancy

Salmonella Pregnancy

What is Salmonella?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that is frequently associated with food poisoning. [1] Bacteria are germs that live in different environments, both outside and inside of the body. Some bacteria are beneficial to your body, but others can cause illness. When you get infected by Salmonella, the bacteria travel to your intestines, where they cause the symptoms of food poisoning.

How do you get infected with Salmonella?

You can get infected with Salmonella by either eating foods that are contaminated with Salmonella or by coming into contact with animals that carry the bacteria. Animals that carry Salmonella include reptiles (lizards, snakes, and turtles) or birds (geese, ducks, and chickens). The bacteria affects animals differently, and animals may appear healthy even though they still carry the disease. Salmonella can be spread through the infected stool of the animal. Anything that comes into contact with their droppings can be infected, such as food, bedding, or water. It can also be present on their feathers, scales, or fur. Additionally, cat and dog foods can be infected with Salmonella. [2] Read more about pets and pregnancy here.

Information about Salmonella: If you are exposed to Salmonella, you may experience signs of illness after 6-72 hours. [3] These may include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain or cramps. You may also experience vomiting, headaches, body aches, and chills, similar to when you have the flu. [4] In more serious infections, the bacteria can potentially spread to your blood 1-2 weeks after exposure to Salmonella. This condition is called bacteremia and can occur in up to 4% of Salmonella infections. Bacteremia can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment by a doctor.

Why are pregnant women more susceptible?

Pregnancy causes changes in your body’s hormones, which ultimately reduces your body’s ability to fight off certain infections. [5]

Risks during pregnancy: Severe infections from Salmonella in pregnancy are rare, but it is important for you to be aware of the potential risks. Salmonella infection during pregnancy can lead to health problems in the expecting mom, including dehydration. [6] In some serious cases, Salmonella can infect the mother’s blood and potentially cause meningitis, a deadly infection that results in swelling of the brain and spine. [7] If Salmonella spreads to the blood, the bacteria can harm the baby or cause a miscarriage. Expecting mothers in their second trimester are most at risk for more serious Salmonella infections. [8] Salmonella can also be passed to the baby. Babies who are born with Salmonella can develop fever, diarrhea, or other serious problems. [6]

When to contact your doctor: Pregnant women who have diarrhea or suspect that they have been exposed to Salmonella should contact their doctor immediately. Your doctor will test you for an infection and determine whether treatment is necessary. If you are infected with Salmonella, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids if you have diarrhea to prevent dehydration.

Food Safety: Undercooked eggs, poultry, meat, and seafood can cause Salmonella infection. It is important to handle food safely while cooking. Below are some tips that will help prevent you from getting infected with Salmonella.

Safety when cooking [4]

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after touching food.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables with running water.
  • Wash cooking utensils, plates, cutting boards, and counter surfaces with hot water and soap.
  • Use one cutting board for cutting raw meats and a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables.
  • Keep all raw eggs, poultry, meat, or seafood separated from all foods that are ready-to-eat.
  • Place cooked food on a clean plate. Do not use the same plate that was used for raw eggs, meat, poultry, or seafood.
  • Cook foods to proper temperatures and use a food thermometer to check the temperature. Appropriate food safety temperatures can be found here.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers, prepared foods, and perishables within 2 hours, or within 1 hour if the temperature is higher than 90°F (32°C) outside.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or lower, and your freezer at 0°F (-18°C).

Foods to avoid if you are pregnant

  • Raw or undercooked eggs can be contaminated with Salmonella and should not be eaten by expecting moms. If you are pregnant, you should also avoid foods that may contain raw eggs as an ingredient. These include some salad dressings, homemade mayonnaise, custard, homemade ice cream, and raw cake batter or cookie dough. [5] Pasteurized egg products are available and are a safer alternative to non-pasteurized eggs. Read more about safely eating eggs in pregnancy here.
  • Unpasteurized milk or juice can be infected with Salmonella. Any cheese that was manufactured with unpasteurized milk should also be avoided.

Summary

Salmonella can be caused by consuming raw or undercooked poultry, meat, seafood, or eggs. Practice proper food safety by cooking food to recommended temperatures. Always wash your hands after touching raw meat, pet food, or after handling anything that comes into contact with reptiles or birds. If you think that you may have Salmonella, contact your doctor immediately because it can be dangerous to both you and your baby.

References:

Brittani Zurek
Dr. Brittani Zurek earned her Doctor of Pharmacy from the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. She currently works as a medical writer, specializing in disease management and medication therapy. Brittani also writes continuing education modules for healthcare professionals. She enjoys hiking and spending time outdoors in her free time.

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