Amphibians, Reptiles and Salmonella

 Update May 31, 2013: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have reported eight (8) multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infection associated with exposure to small turtles (those with shell lengths of less than 4 inches)  or their habitats. As of May 24, a total of 391 people have been infected with Salmonella in 40 states and the District of Columbia. Although no deaths have been reported, 29% of cases have required hospitalization. Seventy-one percent (71%) of those affected are 10 years of age or younger, and 33% are 1 year of age or younger.

 

Many people are aware that turtles and other reptiles can carry Salmonella bacteria, but not many know that amphibians can carry it, too. Between April 21, 2009 and July 18, 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infection associated with amphibians.  All of the individuals were infected through contact with amphibians – more specifically, water frogs – or their habitats. Salmonella Typhimurium infections were reported in 241 individuals in 42 states. The infections were traced to a common source.

According to a report released on August 2, 2010 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, frozen rodents sold as reptile feed were identified as the cause of Salmonella infection in 34 individuals from 17 states. The company producing the frozen rodents announced a recall on July 23, 2010. It is important to note that reptile food can also be a source of Salmonella infection. Between August 29, 2011 and February 2, 2012, 46 cases of Salmonella infection associated with contact with feeder rodents (live or frozen) were reported in 22 states. Two of the breeders supplying the rodents had purchased rodents from the company implicated in the 2009-2010 outbreaks, leading to a suspicion that the outbreak strain may now be endemic (established) in the feeder rodent population.

In February 2012, a CDC report described an outbreak of 132 cases of human Salmonella infections between August 2010 and September 2011 associated with exposure to small turtles (those with shell lengths of less than 4 inches). Cases were reported in 18 states, and the majority of illnesses occurred in children less than 10 years of age, whose illness can be severe and cause hospitalization. Similar outbreaks were recorded in 2007 and 2008. Despite a three decade ban on the sale of small turtles, these infections continue to occur. CDC reported similar outbreaks in 2007 and 2008. The CDC stated that increasing enforcement of existing regulations, increasing penalties for illegal sales and emphasizing regulations can assist in decreasing infections acquired from these reptiles. In addition, the CDC stated that turtles are not appropriate pets in households with young children or other high risk individuals (pregnant women, older persons and the immune-compromised).

In March 2012, the CDC issued a report on three multistate outbreaks of Salmonella linked to exposure to turtle or turtle habitats. The Salmonella strains identified – Salmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona and Salmonella Poona – are considered rare types of the bacteria. The cases of Salmonella Sandiego and Salmonella Pomona infection have been primarily reported in the Northeast and Southwest U.S., while the cases of Salmonella Poona infection were identified in the Midwest and Southwest U.S. The CDC reiterated its recommendation that turtles with shell lengths of less than 4 inches should not be purchased or given as pets. A May 24, 2013 update from the CDC increased the number to 8 outbreaks affecting3919 people in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

This doesn't mean amphibian and reptile owners should get rid of their pets. What it does mean is that amphibian and reptile handlers and owners should take precautions to protect themselves and their families. Simple, common sense measures can significantly reduce your risk of amphibian- or reptile-associated Salmonella infection, including:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching or handling any amphibian or reptile, its housing, or anything (including food) that has come in contact with a reptile or amphibian or its feces (stool).
  • Adults should closely supervise children when they handle amphibians or reptiles, and should assist young children with hand washing.
  • If you or any of your family members develop diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever or other signs of illness, contact a physician. Make sure you inform your physician of your contact with a reptile or amphibian.
  • Children less than 5 years old should not be allowed to come into contact with amphibians or reptiles without close supervision. Children less than 5 years old are at high risk of Salmonella infection.
  • Elderly people and people with weakened immune systems are at high risk of Salmonella infection and should be especially cautious about contact with amphibians or reptiles or their environments.
  • Amphibians and reptiles should not be kept in child-care centers.
  • Reptile and amphibian pets should not be housed in children's bedrooms. This is especially important when the children are less than 5 years old.
  • Do not allow amphibians or reptiles to roam freely throughout your house.
  • It is especially important to keep reptiles and amphibians out of food and drink preparation areas.
  • When cleaning the reptile's or amphibian's habitat:
    • Wear gloves and do not clean the habitat in or near any areas used for food or drink preparation.
    • If possible, clean the habitat outside of the house and in an area that is not frequently accessed by children, elderly or immunocompromised people.
    • Do not clean the habitat near any sources of food (such as gardens or crop fields) or drinking water.
    • After cleaning the habitat, remove and discard the gloves and thoroughly wash your hands.
    • Children less than 5 years old should not be allowed to clean the reptile's or amphibian's habitat.
  • Do not bathe reptiles or amphibians in your kitchen sink or near any areas used for food or drink preparation. If you use a bathtub for this purpose, it should be thoroughly cleaned and bleached afterward to kill any bacteria that may remain on the surface.

For more information about reptiles, amphibians and Salmonella:

AVMA resources

Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians:

*note: although these materials specifically address reptiles, the information and recommendations also apply to amphibians.

National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians

U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration