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Micrograph of rod shaped cells bound by fibers.
Salmonella entering an intestinal epithelial cell by reorganizing the host cell’s cytoskeleton via the trigger mechanism. (credit: modification of work by National Institutes for Health)

OpenStax Microbiology

Salmonella gastroenteritis, also called salmonellosis, is caused by the rod-shaped, gram-negative bacterium Salmonella. Two species, S. enterica and S. bongori, cause disease in humans, but S. enterica is the most common. The most common serotypes of S. enterica are Enteritidis and Typhi. We will discuss typhoid fever caused by serotypes Typhi and Paratyphi A separately. Here, we will focus on salmonellosis caused by other serotypes.

Salmonella is a part of the normal intestinal microbiota of many individuals. However, salmonellosis is caused by exogenous agents, and infection can occur depending on the serotype, size of the inoculum, and overall health of the host. Infection is caused by ingestion of contaminated food, handling of eggshells, or exposure to certain animals. Salmonella is part of poultry’s microbiota, so exposure to raw eggs and raw poultry can increase the risk of infection. Handwashing and cooking foods thoroughly greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Salmonella bacteria can survive freezing for extended periods but cannot survive high temperatures.

Once the bacteria are ingested, they multiply within the intestines and penetrate the epithelial mucosal cells via M cells where they continue to grow. They trigger inflammatory processes and the hypersecretion of fluids. Once inside the body, they can persist inside the phagosomes of macrophages. Salmonella can cross the epithelial cell membrane and enter the bloodstream and lymphatic system. Some strains of Salmonella also produce an enterotoxin that can cause an intoxication.

Infected individuals develop fever, nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, headache, and diarrhea. These signs and symptoms generally last a few days to a week. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 1,000,000 cases annually, with 380 deaths each year.5 However, because the disease is usually self-limiting, many cases are not reported to doctors and the overall incidence may be underreported. Diagnosis involves culture followed by serotyping and DNA fingerprinting if needed. Positive results are reported to the CDC. When an unusual serotype is detected, samples are sent to the CDC for further analysis. Serotyping is important for determining treatment. Oral rehydration therapy is commonly used. Antibiotics are only recommended for serious cases. When antibiotics are needed, as in immunocompromised patients,  fluoroquinolones, third-generation cephalosporins, and ampicillin are recommended. Antibiotic resistance is a serious concern.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: