Pet reptiles and salmonella.

Until recently, the only reptiles widely associated with outbreaks of salmonellosis among human beings were turtles: the baby red-eared sliders that were briefly popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. FDA, acting under the advice of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), banned the sale of these turtles in 1975 (1).

As enthusiasm for other reptile pets has increased, it has become apparent that all reptiles (including snakes and lizards) carry Salmonella. Although the bacteria do not normally threaten the health of the reptiles, human beings are more susceptible. In 1996, the number of cases of reptile-associated salmonellosis was estimated at 50,000 per year (2).

Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, vomiting, and cramps that last one to two days. In sensitive subpopulations, such as young children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, salmonellosis can result in dehydration, hospitalization, and, in extreme cases, death. In some cases, infection has developed not in the people who actually handled the reptiles but in small children who never had direct contact with the animals. Furthermore, not all strains of Salmonella can be easily treated with antibiotics. CDC strongly recommends that families with children under one year of age not keep reptile pets (2).

The following groups of people should avoid both direct and indirect contact with any reptile:

* infants and children up to five years of age (some say up to eight years of age);

* anyone with HIV, AIDS, or other immune deficiencies;

* anyone who has had transplant surgery;

* anyone taking any drug that affects the immune system, including steroids, chemotherapy, and antibiotics;

* anyone receiving radiation therapy;

* pregnant women;

* elderly people;

* anyone whose nutritional status is poor; and

* people subject to chronic infections (3).

People who have contact with reptiles should observe the following precautions to avoid becoming infected or acting as carriers:

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