Easter bunny sitting by an eggby James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

I promise, this has to do with survival medicine. Just bear with me. Sunday is Easter, for crying out loud.

Easter is the time we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And what better way to celebrate than … an Easter egg hunt. Many children and adults will spend a fun-filled afternoon hunting for those for those elusive, brightly colored eggs that old sneaky Easter Bunny has hidden. And a few will spend the next few days with a bad stomachache, vomiting, and diarrhea. (Leave it to a doctor.)

So how does this relate to survival? Eating eggs. It’s not just the Easter bunny than can bring a case of the runs. I love chickens, but some have ovaries filled with salmonella. The eggs they lay contain the bacteria both inside and out. It doesn’t matter if you’re eating them or putting them in a basket, you and your children are at risk. A few simple steps can decrease that risk to nil:

  1. Cook the eggs thoroughly. No eggs-over-easy here. Fry those suckers or boil them well. If they’re for Easter, boil for fifteen minutes.
  2. Wash you’re hands immediately after handling raw eggs, whether you’re cooking, coloring, or gathering. The less time allowed for the temptation of the hands going to the mouth, the better. No water? Use disinfectant hand-wipes or lotion.
  3. Wipe down counters or containers or any area raw eggs have touched.
  4. Refrigerate when you can.
  5. Don’t eat or play with raw eggs that have been at room temperature for more than two hours.
  6. In fact, I’d suggest not eating the Easter eggs you’ve hidden. I know it’s a waste. Maybe save a few in the fridge before hiding the rest if eating’s on your mind. Although I hear the chocolate kind are pretty good also.
Easter eggs with natural dye

Easter eggs colored with natural dyes, including red cabbage, coffee, and turmeric.* Of course, all-natural doesn't mean all-safe! Boil those suckers first.

Now, no matter what you do, somewhere, sometime you might get a case of salmonella. Eggs aren’t the only culprit. You can get salmonella from poultry and beef—even those cute little Easter chicks (the feathery kind). Pet reptiles are another source. And don’t forget other people. Salmonella poisoning is contagious.The best way to prevent it is hand washing, thorough cooking—basically the same instructions as for the eggs.

Salmonella Symptoms

The symptoms take a little time to develop. You’re doing well, then twelve to seventy-two hours after exposure, wham. Abdominal cramping, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea, which lasts for five to seven days.

Salmonella Treatment

Fluids. Plenty of fluids. If you can’t take them by mouth, you may need an IV. Have a doctor check you out if you feel especially horrible, or if you can’t get fluids in by twelve hours or so. Sometimes, it gets bad enough that you have to spend some time in the hospital. Antibiotics are usually not prescribed except in the more severe cases. Then, it’s ciprofloxin, sulfa, or maybe ampicillin.

At home, get plenty of bed rest, and stay on clear liquids until the diarrhea lets up. That’s water, ice chips, ginger ale, Pedialyte, tea, broth, sports drinks, Jell-O, Popsicles. Sip slowly and often. If you’re not urinating every few hours or you’re getting fainty when you stand, you’re getting dehydrated. Drink more or get IV fluids. After the diarrhea lets up, try the BRAT diet. That’s bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. Crackers and mashed-up potatoes (no milk or butter) are also good. If you have fever, take Tylenol (acetaminophen; read the precautions before taking it). It might make you feel a little better, but the main reason is fever increases your metabolism and could make you dehydrate faster.

If you can’t get to medical help:

  • If you’re vomiting everything you try to hold down, quit trying to drink for a few hours. That’s because you’re vomiting up not only the fluids you took but also electrolytes like sodium and potassium.
  • Then take a sip or two of liquids, wait five minutes, try another sip or two. Keep it small and slow. It’s more likely to stay down.
  • There’s not much else you can do unless you have access to IV fluids.
  • Remember, if it’s salmonella, the diarrhea’s going to last five to seven days. You can make it if you can keep in the fluids.

In the U.S., about 400 people die from salmonella poisoning every year. Take it seriously. Play it safe.

Happy Easter.

*Want to make some? The photographer, Luz Bratcher, says she used the instructions from Curbly.com to dye the eggs.

Easter Bunny photo by Carly Lesser and Art Drauglis.