Amphibians, Reptiles and Salmonella

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 Update May 15, 2015: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported an outbreak of Salmonella Muenchen​ associated with handling of pet crested geckos. To date, 20 persons in 16 states have been affected, with three hospitalizations but no deaths. 

 

Many people are aware that turtles and other reptiles can carry Salmonella bacteria, but not many know that amphibians can carry it, too. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported a number of outbreaks of Salmonella infection associated with handling reptiles and amphibians or their habitats. Reported outbreaks include: 

  • Multi-state outbreak (2012-2014) of Salmonella Cotham and Salmonella Kisarawe associated with handling of pet bearded dragons. 
  • Multi-state outbreaks (2009-2011) of Salmonella Typhimurium infection associated contact with amphibians – more specifically, water frogs – or their habitats. 
  • A multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Cotham infection associated with contact with pet bearded dragons.
  • Outbreaks in 2009-2010, 2011-2012 and 2014 associated with handling frozen rodents sold as reptile feed. 
  • A 2010-2011 multi-state outbreak of Salmonella infection associated with exposure to small turtles (those with shell lengths of less than 4 inches). Similar outbreaks were recorded in 2007 and 2008. Despite a three decade ban on the sale of small turtles, these infections continue to occur. 
  • Eight multi-state outbreaks of Salmonella infection in 2012-2013 associated with exposure to turtles or turtle habitats.

In most of the outbreaks reported, the majority of illnesses occurred in children less than 10 years of age, whose illness can be severe and require hospitalization.

Advice for Pet Owners

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:

  • Do not purchase or obtain turtles with shell lengths of less than 4 inches. Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length.
  • 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