By: James C. Little, DVM
Salmonella is rod-shaped, usually motile bacteria that is pathogenic to man and other warm-blooded animals and causes food poisoning, gastrointestinal inflammation, and diseases of the genital tract. This bacteria is extremely common in reptiles and can cause severe, life-threatening illness in both humans and reptiles.
Up to 90 percent of reptiles have been shown to shed some type of salmonella bacteria in their feces. Salmonella infections can result in a variety of illnesses. The most common clinical signs for both reptiles and people are diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) or septicemia (blood infection.) People who own or handle reptiles should know that salmonella is most commonly transmitted to people when reptile fecal material is allowed to come into contact with food preparation surfaces, bathing areas or, especially in young children, the mouth.
The possibility of infection is great enough that reptiles are not recommended pets for people with compromised immune systems. This group includes infants, toddlers, children under eight, the elderly, pregnant women, chemotherapy patients, transplant recipients and AIDS patients. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that children under the age of 5 not handle reptiles and that homes with infants (children under 1 year) not keep reptiles. Reptiles should not be kept as pets for daycare centers.
We recommend the following safe handling instructions:
1) Wash your hands thoroughly after you handle your pet reptile, its food and food dishes, or anything it has touched.
2) Cage your reptile in a habitat designed for it. Do not allow it to roam your home or visit areas where food is prepared, or children are bathed.
3) Do not allow direct or indirect contact of your reptile with children under 8 years of age.
4) Do not nuzzle or kiss your reptile.
5) We also recommend annual examination by a veterinarian and a yearly fecal check.