University of Nebraska Medical Center

Salmonella: the Real Story from our CLS Program

by Fran Higgins, BFA
So, you love peanut butter and alfalfa sprouts but hate salmonellosis. You’re not alone.

Linsey Donner, MT(ASCP)

Linsey Donner, MT(ASCP)

The fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea caused by the Salmonella serotype Typhimurium bacteria are not what one expects or hopes for after enjoying a sandwich or snack, so I spoke with Linsey Donner, MT(ASCP) from our Clinical Laboratory Science Education program to find out more about these critters and the recent outbreaks we’ve all heard about in the news lately. Linsey has faced off with these bacteria under her microscope on more than one occasion. She was happy to share her expertise.

Salmonellosis is not uncommon and most of the time it is self-limiting, meaning the symptoms will probably subside on their own in 4-7 days without any treatment. If you are treated, you are more likely to become a carrier, so treatment is only necessary in severe cases – usually in the elderly, infants, or immunocompromised individuals. The most important things for someone with salmonellosis are to stay hydrated and wash hands, especially before handling food.

If you think you’ve been exposed to Salmonella and are showing symptoms which are not getting better within a week, see your family practitioner. Your doctor will ask you to collect a stool sample and they will send it to the lab. The clinical laboratory scientist then cultures the sample for pathogenic bacteria, incubates it, and can identify the bacteria in 48 hours. If it is indeed Salmonella hanging its ugly hat in the agar plate, the scientist then does susceptibility testing to see which antibiotics are effective against the bacteria. All told, it takes about 72 hours from start of identification to the finish of this process, at which time the lab sends a report back to the physician who can then, if indicated, prescribe and treat with the proper antibiotics. The lab also reports these positive findings to the Public Health Department who in turn reports to the Centers for Disease Control. xld-salmonella-web

Did you know that 70-80% of patient management decisions are based on laboratory tests? Without microbiologists and clinical laboratory scientists, physicians wouldn’t have enough information to diagnose and treat most illnesses, particularly those like salmonellosis which require specific tests to detect. The scientist needs to be able to differentiate between thousands of “normal” bacteria and the pathogenic ones, or “bad guys,” as I prefer to call them.

Most people get salmonellosis from undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, or from milk. The recent cases in the United States have been connected to peanut butter and, here in Douglas County, alfalfa sprouts.

Linsey’s tips for prevention: Cook your foods to the correct temperatures, make certain your dairy products are pasteurized, keep uncooked meats separated from produce, wash your hands thoroughly with soap before handling foods, after using the restroom, and after coming in contact with animal feces or handling pets (particularly reptiles or birds).