Leapin’ Lizards! Salmonella from Pet Reptiles Climbs

Salmonella infection risk may be rising among preschoolers with pet reptiles

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Salmonella is usually thought of as a foodborne illness. There is a type of Salmonella passed on by pet reptiles, however, and it seems to be affecting young children.

Researchers recently reported that about one in four cases of Salmonella infection in preschool children was associated with having a pet snake or other reptile.

These scientists suggested that parents of young children might want to reconsider choosing a reptile as a pet.

One of the most common causes of food poisoning in the US is from the group of bacteria called Salmonella, according to FoodSafety.gov. Contaminated foods (eggs, meat, milk, vegetables, fruit) are often the culprit. Snakes, turtles, lizards, frogs and other pet reptiles and amphibians can also pass along the disease. Infants, young children and the elderly may be especially vulnerable to getting Salmonella from reptiles.

Dan Murphy, MD, from Royal Cornwall Hospital in England, and Femi Oshin, MD, consultant in Communicable Disease Control, Devon, Cornwall & Somerset Public Health England Centre, cowrote this report.

“This study found reptile exposure in over a quarter of all reported Salmonella cases in children under 5 years of age in South West England,” the authors wrote. “Children with reptile-associated salmonellosis were younger and were more likely to have invasive disease and be hospitalized.”

These investigators reviewed all cases of Salmonella infection in children under the age of 5 that were reported to public health authorities in the Southwest England between 2010 and 2013.

Of the 175 cases included in the study, 48 (27 percent) involved exposure to reptiles.

Children with this type of illness were more than 2.5 times as likely to have been admitted to hospital for treatment compared to those with other types of Salmonella infection.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever and intestinal cramps.

The youngsters with the reptile-related Salmonella in this study were about six months old on average — much younger than those who had become infected as a result of food poisoning, according to the researchers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) advises families with children aged 5 years or younger to avoid keeping reptiles or amphibians as pets.

“Young children are at increased risk for Salmonella infection because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths,” the CDC writes on it website. 

Even when reptiles and amphibians appear healthy and clean, they might have Salmonella germs on their bodies. The bacteria can survive in cages, aquariums, terrariums and other containers that house these creatures live in.

The CDC stresses the importance of washing hands immediately after touching animals, or anything in the area where these animals live.

The study was published online December 22 in Archives of Disease in Childhood. The authors reported no conflicts of interest nor sources of funding.

Review Date: 
December 22, 2014
Last Updated:
December 23, 2014