A family I took care of recently at the hospital, wondered why I suddenly had so many questions to ask about their pet Iguana "Izzy". Far from having an axe to grind with just Iguanas or anger directed at "Izzy", we've know for sometime that all members of the reptile and amphibian family that have become domesticated and favorites for family pets can be fun for the family, but they can just as easily harbor a bacteria that could make young children very sick. Turtles, frogs, snakes, geckos, horned toads, salamanders, and chameleons are other common examples of this family of animals.
The control of salmonella and similar germs transmitted from contaminated water and food remain one of the great triumphs of public health measures. Most people some of whom own these pets actually still think of only water and food-borne sources of transmission as being possible for salmonella as a result. This is incorrect since amphibian and reptilian pets still leave the door open for salmonella to cross from these animals to unsuspecting humans, their contacts and potentially cause very serious problems in children and adults. Reptiles and amphibians very frequently harbor these germs.
The CDC cautions families with children aged less than 5-years to especially avoid these families of animals for pets. Smaller sized pet Turtles were banned for sale in 1975 in the USA because little children were more likely to put the small animals in their mouth and increase likelihood of transmission through the gut. Children in this age group have developing immune systems and this makes them especially vulnerable to serious complications from salmonella infection though the same risk is applicable to all ages. These animals despite being kept clean and appearing healthy can transmit these bacteria during handling, cage cleaning etc.
Find useful tips below from the CDC on precautions if your family has a reptilian or amphibian animal as a pet to reduce salmonella transmission from the animals to their human owners. Remember, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.
How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians?
- 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 they 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 their habitats in your kitchen sink. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterward. Use bleach to disinfect a tub or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.
- Wash any clothing the reptile or amphibian might have touched.
- Use soap or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with reptiles or amphibians.
- Dr. Diji Vaughan