What’s Worse, Salmonella or E. Coli? Bacteria Battle For Nasty.

I love answering “What’s Worse” questions…. whether it’s about odors, pest infestations or performing disgusting jobs, comparing two horrible things and debating their nastiness is….well, pure entertainment for us at What Kills It.

Today, it’s a What’s Worse showdown between two horrible bacteria Salmonella and E.coli. Of course the only way to crown one of these bacteria “Worse Champion” we need to learn a thing or two about their capabilities..

After doing so, we should have enough information to determine, which we would rather become infected with meaning that the one we DON’T want to suffer with, will win the What’s Worse Battle between Salmonella and E.coli.

Let’s dive in…

Salmonella vs. E.coli – The Gram Negative or Gram Positive Test

A great way to score points in a competition for the worst bacteria is to be a gram-negative bacteria. That’s because gram-negative bad boys get to go through life wearing a built-in shield that protects them from anything that’s trying to kill them. You can read all about that in our article here.

If a bacteria is gram-positive, well, they have no shield and are easy to kill and manage with mild detergents and relatively low levels of antibiotics. Like taking candy from a baby…but don’t do that.

Unfortunately, the fight for “worse bacteria” will not be won so quickly because the negative/positive qualifier is of no help in this contest.

Both Salmonella and E.coli are bad to the bone, Gram-Negative bacteria which means they both go through life enjoying the security of a built-in protective shield.

Gram Negative Points: Salmonella 1 / E.coli 1

Strain Variants of Salmonella vs. that of E.coli (Redeeming Qualities)

No matter the strain (version), Salmonella bacteria are always an enemy to humans. In other words, there is no “friendly” form of Salmonella….it’s all bad. That means Salmonella has, in our opinion, no redeeming qualities.

On the other hand, most E. coli strains are usually harmless and can even be helpful to the GI tract; a “friendly” bacteria, if you will.

However, there is a downright vicious strain of E. coli that is pathogenic, which means it causes disease. This particular E. coli strain produces a toxin called Shiga, creating Shiga Toxin producing E. Coli or STEC.

It’s  name is: O157:H7 and you can look at the picture below to better understand how it got its strain sequence identifier.

How the Vicious E.coli train got its name

If you become infected with the pathogenic O157:H7 strain, you are in for a serious battle. If you need to disinfect for this unique strain, refer to our article here: disinfecting O157:H7.

Still, for the most part, many (most) E.coli strains are friendly and beneficial. Which doesn’t bode well for E.coli winning a battle of the bad.

Always Unfriendly Points: Salmonella 1 / E.coli 0

Salmonella vs. E.coli – HABITAT – Which one Lives the Nastiest Life?

It turns out that both of these bacteria inhabit the intestines of people and warm blooded animals.

Salmonella can also live on raw meats, poultry, in eggs, in soil and water. Pathogenic E. coli bacteria live on raw meat, and also in soil and water that has been contaminated by feces.

Yummy to them, nasty to us, the habitat category is a tie, each bacteria earning one nasty point for habitat.

Nasty Habitat Points: Salmonella-1 / E.coli-1

Lifespan Outside of Host – E.coli vs. Salmonella on Surfaces

Every once in a while, even we get the heebie jeebies when doing research for an article. That moment has arrived. We’ll even link to the research so you can see for yourself. Here is a link to National Library of Medicine, check this article and look at table 1.

Lifespan Capabilities outside of Host, on Surfaces

  • Salmonella – Several Hours to 1 Full Day
  • E.coli – 1.5 Hours all the way to 16 Months

Both bacteria prefer high humidity and lower temps.

Life Span Points: Salmonella 0 / E.coli 1

Symptoms – Which is Going to Be Worse Between Salmonella and E.coli

Alright, let’s get into the symptoms. No doubt, the way each of these infections will make us feel, goes a long way in deciding which is worse.

Stomach CrampingYesYes
Bloody DiarrheaYes
Organ AlertKidneys
Symptoms Last
4-7 Days5-10 Days

In the case of E. coli, bloody diarrhea and potential kidney disruption are plenty to take the win.

Awful Symptoms Points: Salmonella 0 / E.coli 1

Treatment & Recovery Outlook if Infected

With even mild infections both bacteria can cause rapid dehydration and therefore staying hydrated is priority number 1. Next, is: get plenty of rest.

But when it comes to stopping the inevitable diarrhea, a bout with Salmonella might get you anti-diarrhea meds, but an E.coli infection will usually require you to get through the diarrhea without help.

That’s because those E.coli toxins need to leave your body ASAP and taking an anti-diarrheal, will delay their departure. Also of note, antibiotics sometimes do more harm than good when it comes to E.coli infections.

Difficult Treatment Points: Salmonella 0 / E.coli 1

Chain Reaction Ailments & the Slippery Slope – Can either of these cause other problems?

The salmonella bacteria can cause complications such as Reiter’s syndrome, otherwise known as reactive arthritis. If salmonella gets into your bloodstream, it can cause bacteremia which can affect the brain, the heart, blood vessels, or the bones. But that’s very rare.

E. coli symptoms can worsen for children under five or the elderly. As the infection progresses, symptoms can include shortness of breath and seizures and at the worst, can cause renal failure or other organ failure.

In extreme cases, E.coli complications can lead to permanent disabilities or even death.

Both can cause bigger issues, we think E.coli is nastier.

Ability to Cause Health Complications Points: Salmonella 0 / E.coli 1

So What’s Worse? What would I Rather Be Infected With?

So, we’ve learned a little about both of these awful bacteria and now we’re wondering which of these two culprits is the worst. If I had to go after just one, which would it be?

Right from the horse’s mouth: The CDC estimates Salmonella bacteria cause about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year.

Compare that to E.coli: Estimates from the CDC say that 73,000 people get a pathogenic strain of E. coli each year with 2,200 hospitalizations and 60 deaths.

Well, E. coli is friendly unless it’s the pathogenic type. Salmonella is never friendly. And infection and recovery is far more common that the numbers when it comes to E.coli. If I had to choose one to recover from, I guess it would be salmonella.

So in my humble opinion, E.coli is worse than salmonella.

But really, they are both bad. It’s just that, for me, the tipping point is a combination of bloody diarrhea and just the fact that E.coli infection is far less common. If I had to suffer a bacterial infection, I guess I prefer it to be common.

Either way, the prevention against either is pretty much the same – keeping things clean and using common sense.

So, I feel like I nailed this down. Knowing what I know now, I can enjoy a relaxing weekend.

In Closing

It looks like I have an invitation to my former hippie, sister-in-law’s place this weekend. She just sent me a text with details of the party they’re having.

She says, “We’ll be serving chicken cooked on the grill, lettuce from our garden, “natural”, unpasteurized milk and apple cider. And after the dinner, there will be a new flock of baby chicks for the kids to play with. Later we’ll go swimming in the pond, you know the one right next to the cow pasture.”

Mmm…I’m thinking now that I have a lot of work to catch up on and I’ll have to pass on this one. Instead, I will plan on going out to my favorite restaurant and ordering a steak, well done of course.


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