The survival of Salmonella typhimurium under desiccation and starvation conditions commonly associated with farm buildings was investigated in a desiccation model system: filtration onto polycarbonate membranes placed in a sealed desiccator with 0.0067 g/m3 absolute humidity. Heterogeneities within bacterial populations in relation to time of desiccation were investigated on a single-cell basis by epifluorescence microscopy coupled with an image analysis system in conjunction with fluorescent dyes Chemchrome V6 and DAPI. Changes in cellular states were compared to the results of plate counts (colony forming units, CFU) on selective (modified semi-solid Rappaport Vassiliadis (MSRV)) and non-selective (nutrient agar (NA) and R2A agar) media, and to the measurements of infectivity and virulence using two animal models (chicks and mice). During 9 weeks of experimental desiccation, total cell counts (DAPI) of starved S. typhimurium remained stable, as did esterase activity (Chemchrome V6), but DAPI fluorescence intensity decreased slowly. Bacterial cells entered gradually into non-culturable states (decrease of CFU counts on MSRV, NA and R2A agar media) and the total loss of culturability on NA (defined as probability of presence of 1 CFU on the membrane inferior to 10 (-6)) was obtained after 9 weeks. Loss of chick infectivity and mice virulence in animal models occurred more rapidly, within three weeks of experimental desiccation.