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Reptiles, Amphibians, and Salmonella

Reptiles, Amphibians, and Salmonella

Hundreds of people have become ill in several ongoing, nationwide Salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles. Most victims are children under 5 years old. CDC warns parents [PDF - 341KB] to keep small turtles and other reptiles away from young children.

Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals

Check out CDC’s Gastrointestinal (Enteric) Diseases from Animals website, your one-stop-shop for information about zoonotic outbreaks, prevention messages, and helpful resources.

Reptiles and amphibians are popular pets with many families. Turtles, frogs, iguanas, snakes, geckos, horned toads, salamanders, and chameleons are colorful, quiet, and often kept as pets. Reptiles and amphibians frequently carry a germ called Salmonella that can cause serious illness in people. Although many people think that Salmonella infections are caused only by contaminated food, these germs can also be caught by handling animals, including reptiles or amphibians. Salmonella infections can also result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, including the water from containers or aquariums where they live.

How do people get Salmonella infections from reptiles and amphibians?

Photo: LizzardReptiles and amphibians might have Salmonella germs on their bodies even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, aquariums, terrariums, the water reptiles and amphibians live or swim in, and other containers that house them. Anything that reptiles and amphibians touch should be considered possibly contaminated with Salmonella. When you touch reptiles and amphibians, the germs can get on your hands or clothing. It is important to wash your hands immediately after touching animals, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.

How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians?

  • DO
    • Photo: Wahing hands with soap and water.Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or amphibian, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
      • Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
    • Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children younger than 5 years old or people with weakened immune systems.
    • Habitats and their contents should be carefully cleaned outside of the home. Use disposable gloves when cleaning and do not dispose of water in sinks used for food preparation or for obtaining drinking water.
    • Wash any clothing the reptile or amphibian might have touched.
    • Use soap or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with reptiles or amphibians.
  • DON'T
    • Don't let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch amphibians or reptiles, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums.
    • Don't keep reptiles and amphibians in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.
    • Don't touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals.
    • Don't let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
    • Don't bathe animals or clean their habitats in your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub. To prevent cross-contamination, animals should be bathed in a small plastic tub or bin that is dedicated for animal use only.
      • If bathtubs must be used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterward. Use bleach to disinfect a sink, bathtub, or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.

Who is especially at risk for getting sick?

Young children are at increased risk for Salmonella infection because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. Therefore, families with children aged 5 years or younger in the home should avoid keeping reptiles or amphibians as pets.

What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?

Salmonella can make people sick with

  • Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC's Salmonella website. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, please contact your health care provider immediately.

Are there any restrictions about owning amphibians or reptiles?

Photo: TurtleSince 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length. This size was chosen because small children are more likely to treat smaller turtles as toys and put them in their mouths. This ban prohibiting the sale of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.

Despite this ban, such turtles are still found in some pet stores, flea markets, with street vendors, or sold over the Internet. In addition, children still catch wild turtles and lizards and bring them home to keep as pets. Whether purchased or caught in a backyard, a reptile or amphibian can carry Salmonella and might not be the best choice of a pet for your family, especially if there are young children or persons with weakened immune systems in the household.

 

More Information

 

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  • Page last reviewed: November 25, 2013
  • Page last updated: November 25, 2013
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