Salmonella: some level-headed facts
SOME LEVEL-HEADED FACTS ABOUT SALMONELLA
Since Salmonella has been in the news lately I thought I’d try to explain a little about the group of bacteria and its connection with human health.
Salmonella as a group of bacteria are closely related to the other enteric bacteria called E. coli. These organisms do not have a fixed makeup and can affect their hosts in different ways. It is estimated that half of our fecal material is bacteria, and E. Coli (coliforms) is the predominant bacteria. It is another one of those necessary, omnipresent intestinal bacteria and comes in many different varieties and some of them are not so good. The group of bacteria known as Salmonella contains some pretty nasty bugs. When testing for it with simple plating techniques we don’t always know exactly what we are dealing with so health officials take a null hypothesis. When Salmonella is found, they consider all varieties bad and with good reason. The group is responsible for typhus, paratyphus, hog cholera and many variations of enteritis. Salmonella is more troublesome than many other bacteria because, first and foremost, it has a particularly long life outside a host. Secondly, it is zoonotic which means it can cross-over between humans and other animals.
For years turtles less than 4” could not be sold because children would put the small turtles in their mouth. The shell of the turtle can harbor salmonella. We can also get Salmonella from all small animals like hamsters, rats, mice, and gerbils in addition to fowl, dogs and cats. Sanitation is therefore the best preventative technique. Wash hands thoroughly. Train your children keep their hands out of their mouth when handling any animal. Simple sanitation can prevent all sorts of diseases including the flu and many cold viruses. It should be noted, however, that not all varieties of Salmonella cause disease. Many of us are fairly immune but occasionally a serotype, (genetic type—there are hundreds), comes along that sidesteps our immunity. People can get severe enteritis, which may result in death in the elderly or immunodeficient. The most common methods of transmission are ingestion from food (remember the scallion-scandal at Chi Chis?) or transmitting the bacteria from hand to mouth. We need to take care how we cook and handle food the food we eat.
Salmonella can be found on all sorts of food items, especially eggs (and more specifically egg whites, though under very poor storage conditions the bacteria can reach the yoke). Poor kitchen sanitation is a major cause of salmonellosis. We wash our chickens in the sink but never really take the time to thoroughly clean the sink despite how much food and how many dishes pass through that space. This is not a good practice. Also we need to teach our children how to thoroughly, completely wash their hands. Salmonella bacteria are very common in our environment and we need to be careful about cooking our food and sanitation in the kitchen. We can also get salmonella infections from prepared food products that are not stored and handled correctly. Through proper kitchen technique and regular hand washing, this is the safest we can make ourselves.
Our pets can also be carriers. To an infectious disease professional there is danger all around us. It perhaps might just give them the heebie jeebies to know that the family dog sleeps in our bed with us. These people work with scary, nasty diseases and are very proactive, but for us to see “boogey bugs” at every turn lessens our enjoyment of life. Paranoia and fear can deprive us of many of our most basic and necessary pleasures. Our pets have become integral parts of our lives. To treat them as lesser citizens in our households because they may be “contaminated” makes us feel less than human and our pets less than loved. The purpose of this discussion is to inform, not to incite thoughts of doom. The media loves to foster fear because it makes people watch and read on because they believe they can ill afford not to. Many times the stories lack completeness and level-headed reason. This therefore allows our imaginations to run away from us. We need to be proactive in our approach to disease of all kinds but be not afraid. We can’t prevent all bad things from happening. Sometimes bad just happens, but we can always take steps to minimize our risk without sacrificing our health and fulfillment.
About 6 or 7 years ago while I was doing the pet care radio show on KDKA the host of the show prior to my Pet Care Hour asked a question about the West Nile Virus spreading across the US. He asked, “Is this Armageddon?” I immediately called the station and told them to not say another word about West Nile until I got there. I added the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was talking about and that he didn’t know enough about the virus to get biblical. Statements like that are unnecessarily inflammatory and disruptive. We need the truth to deal with these things effectively, not doom and gloom. But that doesn’t sell papers or increase viewers. When I arrived at the show I put off my topic of the day to talk about West Nile Virus. I explained that the mosquito-transmitted disease only seems to affect certain species of birds and immune deficient animals, including humans. It is not a rampant monster virus of plague-like proportions. It did certainly harm our blackbird population, however. There was also a reported case in a cat and a couple of dogs. The response I gave at that time was to suggest the undertaking of simple mosquito control by making sure people wore “effective” repellents and dressed properly for the outdoors. Keep pets inside during primary mosquito hours. I still exercise this practice, and it will serve you well too.
Since those early West Nile Virus days the fear has died down but the virus remains. It appears our animal population is beginning to develop some immunity to it through natural selection and exposure. Can we assume we can’t get the disease with precautions? No. Can we assume that taking reasonable precautions regarding any disease lessens our exposure. Absolutely.
As a side note: The more people we have on earth the more zoonotic diseases we will have to face. In the past 20 years we have seen some potentially harmful and easily transmitted viruses coming out of very populated areas of the world like China, where the proximity of domestic animal production (especially pigs and birds) to heavily populated areas is a dangerous combination. The CDC and the World Health Organization certainly have their hands full. International transportation is a spreader of disease and ecologically harmful non-indigenous species. None of this is good, but I will try not to worry about Japanese Knotweed and bird and swine flu. I hope this helps in balancing the facts with the news. As always I’m available for comment via Facebook or through comments through our website at www.totalpetstores.com.