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Amphibian and Reptile Owners: Danger Lurks in Your Aquarium…

May 12, 2010 | 15,735 views
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frog, aquariumPet frogs are popular for families with small children, or families who don’t want the responsibility of a larger pet.

Many people are aware of the risk of salmonella infection from turtles, but a multi-state outbreak of human salmonella infections last year has been linked to African dwarf frogs, a common aquatic pet.

These small, entirely aquatic frogs are frequently found in pet stores, petting zoos, in classrooms and as household pets.

The CDC isolated the source of the salmonella outbreak to a single California breeder. Patients were most likely infected by contaminated aquarium water rather than by direct handling infected frogs.

Nearly 80 percent of the people infected in this outbreak were under the age of 10, and the median age was five years old. Young children are more likely to reach into tank water and are less likely to wash their hands properly.

When asked, over 50 percent of infected patients knew turtles were a source of salmonella infection, but only 30 percent knew the risk also involved exposure to amphibians.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

Just when our frog friends were starting to live down that persistent old myth about warts, along comes an outbreak of salmonella traced to these cute little guysAfrican dwarf frogs.

Amphibians, Reptiles and Salmonella

Many people believe salmonella infection can only occur from contaminated food.

But the salmonella germ is also carried by animals, including reptiles and amphibians, and can be transmitted to humans who handle contaminated creatures or their habitats.

A little aquatic frog like the African dwarf frog, for example, can be perfectly healthy and clean and still have  salmonella bacteria on his body. As he moves about in his habitat, say an aquarium, bacteria moves from his body into the water, onto the gravel in the bottom of the tank, and even into the water filtration system.

All you or a family member has to do is put your hand in the aquarium to pick up the salmonella germ from the contaminated water. The bacteria on your hands, if not thoroughly washed away, can make you sick and/or it can be passed on to others.

Salmonella Infection

If you become infected with the salmonella germ, you can experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Symptoms usually appear within 12 to 72 hours after infection, and the illness typically runs from four to seven days. Infection is diagnosed through a stool sample.

Many people are able to fight off the infection, but thousands of people are hospitalized with symptoms each year, and several hundred actually die from the illness. If the bacteria spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and other organs in the body, death can result unless prompt treatment is given.

The elderly and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to become severely ill from salmonella infection, as are young children whose immune systems are still developing.

If you have children at home and an aquarium, it’s very important the kids understand how to properly handle both the tank and its contents. If you suspect your child has a salmonella infection, you should contact your health care provider immediately.

In general, it’s considered a bad idea for families with children five years or younger to keep amphibians or reptiles as pets.

How to Protect Against Salmonella Infection from Pet Amphibians and Reptiles

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling any amphibian or reptile, or anything your pet has come in contact with.
  • Closely supervise any children who handle amphibians, reptiles or their habitats, and help the little ones wash their hands properly.
  • Children five and under should not handle these pets or any components of their habitats.
  • Elderly members of the household or anyone with a compromised immune system should also avoid contact with these pets and their habitats.
  • If anyone in your household develops the symptoms of salmonella infection, contact a health care provider and advise them of any contact with reptiles or amphibians.
  • Amphibians and reptiles should not be kept in child-care centers, nor should they be housed in children’s bedrooms.
  • Don’t allow these pets to roam around your house, and especially not in food and drink preparation areas.
  • When cleaning a reptile or amphibian habitat, wear disposable gloves and if possible, do the cleaning outdoors. Don’t clean the habitat near any food or drink preparation areas, sources of food or drinking water, or the kitchen sink. Discard the gloves after cleaning the habitat, and wash your hands and any exposed areas of your arms thoroughly.
  • Don’t bathe these pets in the kitchen sink or near any food or drink preparation areas. If you bathe your reptiles or amphibians in the bathtub or use it for habitat cleaning, thoroughly clean and disinfect it afterward to kill any bacteria that may have transferred to tub surfaces.

For more information on the salmonella outbreak, visit the CDC’s Investigation Update page.

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