Reptiles and amphibians are popular pets with many families. Turtles, frogs, iguanas, snakes, geckos, horned toads, salamanders and chameleons are colorful, quiet and often kept as pets. These animals frequently carry bacteria called Salmonella that can cause serious illness in people. Salmonella can spread by either direct or indirect contact with amphibians (e.g., frogs), reptiles (e.g., turtles, lizards or snakes) or their droppings.
Salmonella infections can also result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, including the water from containers or aquariums where they live. Persons under 5 years of age are more likely to develop severe illness. Parents are warned to keep frogs and turtles away from young children.
Salmonella History with Pets
In 1975, a rash of Salmonella infections that coincided with a surge in popularity of pet turtles prompted the Food and Drug Administration to ban the distribution of turtles smaller than 4 inches in length in the United States. This seemed to be successful in reducing the incidence of reptile-associated Salmonellosis quite dramatically, but the incidence has increased again in recent years.
It is thought this rise in the infections may be a result of the increased popularity and availability of a variety of reptiles and amphibians as pets.
Salmonella predominantly causes gastroenteritis in humans so symptoms include:
- Fever, and
Symptoms generally appear one to three days after contact with the bacteria. It is not usually a serious problem in healthy adults. Children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people are susceptible to more serious infections including complications such as meningitis.
How it Spread
Reptiles and amphibians might have Salmonella germs on their bodies even when they appear healthy and clean. They can spread by either direct or indirect contact with amphibians, reptiles or their droppings. You can get infected if you had touched or handled amphibian or reptile and then touch either your mouth or other face area.
The Salmonella can also get on cages, aquariums, terrariums, the water reptiles and amphibians live or swim in and other containers that house them. Anything that reptiles and amphibians touch should be considered to be possibly contaminated.
Prevention and Reduce the Risk of Salmonella
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or amphibian, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
- Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
- Do not let children younger than 5 years of age handle or touch reptiles or amphibians or anything in the area where reptiles or amphibians live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums.
- Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children younger than 5 years old or people with weakened immune systems.
- Reptiles and amphibians should not be kept in child care centers, nursery schools or other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.
- Do not touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals.
- Do not let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served or stored, such as kitchens, pantries or outdoor patios.
- Habitats and their contents should be carefully cleaned outside of the home. Use disposable gloves when cleaning and do not dispose of water in sinks used for food preparation or for obtaining drinking water.
- Do not bathe animals or wash their habitats in your kitchen sink. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water afterward. Be sure to clean any surfaces that have been in contact with reptiles or amphibians. If desired for added protection, these surfaces can then also be sanitized and rinsed using a registered disinfectant or sanitizer product. Disinfectants and sanitizers are pesticide products regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). You should verify that the product is labeled for household use to kill bacteria on hard, non-porous surfaces that you intend on disinfecting.
- If registered disinfectants are not available, a chlorine bleach solution may be used – add about 1 tablespoon of bleach to a quart (4 cups) of water. Dispose of the used bleach solution when it becomes dirty. To sanitize hard surfaces, thoroughly wet the surface with the sanitizer solution and let stand for 5 minutes, or as long as directed on the product label. Then rinse the surface with water to remove any sanitizer residue.
- Do not place reptiles and amphibians in the bath tub or kiddie pool used by children.
- Wash any clothing a reptile or amphibian might have touched.
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