- NEW YORK - Children
who keep snakes, lizards and turtles as pets are at risk of infections
that can cause serious illness, and even death, scientists warn.
- Each year, pet reptiles and amphibians are responsible
for an estimated 93,000 cases of infection with Salmonella bacteria, the
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia,
- The government experts said that many families and pet
store owners are unaware of these risks, and few states have enacted laws
requiring individuals who purchase reptiles to be educated about Salmonella.
- "Persons become infected by ingesting Salmonella
after handling a reptile or objects contaminated by a reptile and then
failing to wash their hands properly," CDC officials explain in the
November 12th issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "Either
direct or indirect contact with infected reptiles and their environment
can cause human illness."
- The report describes what happened to five children who
caught Salmonella infection from their pet reptiles.
- One of the children, a 3-week-old infant boy, twice became
infected by the same pet iguana. He required 10 days in the hospital for
the first infection and emergency room treatment for the second.
- Another infant, a 5-month-old boy, died suddenly in his
home despite being apparently healthy. Although he had no direct contact
with an iguana living in the house, the boy and the pet were found to be
infected with the same strain of Salmonella.
- Two brothers, 3 and 6 years old, caught Salmonella from
two pet corn snakes that lived in their bedroom. In another case, an 8-year-old
boy became infected just 3 days after his parents bought two pet iguanas
from a local pet store. When the parents returned the iguanas, the store
owner said that he was unaware of the risk of infection from the pets.
- All of the children became seriously ill, with symptoms
such as vomiting, fever, and bloody diarrhea.
- Children and individuals with poorly functioning immune
systems are most at risk of catching Salmonella infections from reptiles,
and they are also most at risk of developing serious complications of these
infections, the CDC experts say. They recommend that states enact laws
requiring pet owners to be educated about the risk of infection from reptiles
and on how to handle the pets safely.
- For people who already keep reptiles as pets, they have
- " Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling
a reptile or reptile cage.
- " Do not allow reptiles in the kitchen or other
food preparation areas.
- " Do not wash reptiles, their cages or their dishes
in the kitchen sink. If the bathtub is used for that purpose, clean and
disinfect it thoroughly with bleach.
- " Do not let reptiles roam about the home.
- " If you are expecting a new child, remove the reptile
from the home before the infant arrives.
- " Keep reptiles away from children younger than
5 years of age and individuals with poorly functioning immune systems.