Summer picnics are lovely with their delicious spreads of fruits, breads and salads. But beware the potato salad that’s been sitting in the sun! Salmonella poisoning (also called ‘salmonellosis’) is a terrible way to end a nice day out.

“Salmonellosis is more common in summer, probably due to picnics and the like where food, particularly eggs and potato salad, is left out too long and not refrigerated,” says Dr. James Wessely, St. Luke’s Hospital emergency department medical co-director. “Salmonella bacteria are most commonly found in chickens and eggs,” he continues. “The germs infect our gastrointestinal tract and cause gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu, with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), fever and cramps.”

As miserable as that can be for anyone, salmonella poisoning can be life-threatening for some people. “Salmonella infection can get into the bloodstream and make certain people with specific medical conditions very ill, particularly those who have AIDS, cancer, sickle-cell disease, organ transplants, people taking high-dose steroids, and babies born to early or with immune system problems,” says Dr. Otha Myles of Mercy Clinic Infectious Disease.

Dehydration is the most common complication and may require medical intervention, adds Dr. Leonard Weinstock of Specialists in Gastroenterology and on staff at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. He recommends replacing lost fluids and electrolytes with an over-the-counter product such as Pedialyte and controlling nausea with Emetrol. “There is a 10-percent chance or more that the infection can be followed by either post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome or chronic dyspepsia,” he notes. “This may be caused by either small intestinal bacterial overgrowth by your own colon bacteria or a post-infectious inflammatory state. Both of these are treatable.”

Other serious symptoms that require medical attention include severe abdominal pain, complete inability to eat or drink, vomiting blood, experiencing bloody diarrhea, developing a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or symptoms that continue for more than three days. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or recommend intravenous antibiotics and hydration in severe cases.

Myles offers several tips for reducing the risk of salmonella poisoning: “Wash your hands after changing diapers, going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, touching animals or taking out the trash. Stay home from work or school if you are sick. Don’t drink unpasteurized milk or eat foods made with it. Wash fruits and vegetables well before eating them. Keep the refrigerator colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer below 0 degrees. Cook meat and seafood until well done. Cook eggs until the yolk is firm. And always wash hands, knives and cutting boards after they touch raw food.”

And one final note from Wessely for those whose pets are of the amphibious variety: “Pet frogs and turtles (among other amphibians) contain salmonella in their stool, so teach your children not to kiss them and to wash their hands thoroughly after handling them.” Remember, kiss the dog, not the frog.

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