What is reptile-associated salmonellosis?
Salmonella is a bacterium that causes an infection called salmonellosis in the intestines. Increasingly, rare types have been identified in persons who have had no other apparent exposures other than contact with pet reptiles.
While the diarrhea and fever caused by Salmonella bacteria may be a self-limiting condition in healthy adults, salmonellosis in infants and elderly persons often requires hospitalization and can be a life-threatening condition.
Reptile owners can get the disease when they forget to wash their hands after handling a reptile or after cleaning its cage, and can then spread the disease to others.
When reptiles are allowed free access to the home, they may also contaminate bathtubs, sinks, carpets, etc.
How is reptile-associated salmonellosis spread?
Although most often, people get salmonellosis from eating undercooked meat and eggs, it can also be spread through either direct or indirect contact with reptiles and their droppings.
Many reptiles are carriers of Salmonella and show no symptoms, with fecal carriage rates of up to 90%.
Thus far, attempts to eliminate carriage of the bacteria in reptiles have been unsuccessful and have lead to increased antibiotic resistance.
Reptiles can become infected from:
- Mother to eggs
- Direct contact with other infected reptiles
- Contaminated reptile feces
- The eating of feces by hatchlings is common for iguanas and other lizards, and this behavior contributes to the establishment of Salmonella as normal intestinal flora.
How can reptile-associated salmonellosis be prevented?
- Persons at increased risk for infection or serious complications of salmonellosis should avoid contact with reptiles, such as:
- Pregnant women
- Children aged under 5 years
- Immunocompromised people such as those with AIDS
- There should be no reptiles kept in households where there are children less than one year of age.
- Reptiles should not be kept in child-care centers and may not be appropriate pets in households in which people at risk for infection reside.
- Reptiles should not be allowed to crawl around on floors where small children may be playing.
- To prevent food contamination reptiles should be kept out of food-preparation areas.
- In particular, kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe reptiles or to wash reptile dishes, cages or aquariums.
- Avoid eating or drinking near the reptile cage.
- Pay scrupulous attention to the animal’s maintenance and hygiene.
- Handlers should thoroughly wash hands and disinfect surfaces exposed to the reptile.
Who will take my reptile if I don’t want to keep it?
In Southern Nevada there are two organizations that accept reptile donations and work to place surrendered reptiles to permanent homes.
Where can I get more information?
Visit the CDC’s Reptiles, Amphibians, and Salmonella website for additional information and educational material or contact your doctor or the Southern Nevada Health District, Office of Epidemiology at (702) 759-1300.
Download the “After you touch amphibians or reptiles, wash your hands so you don’t get sick!” PDF poster developed by the CDC to education parents and kids.
Visit CDC’s Healthy Pets Healthy People Posters webpage to download additional posters in other languages, including Spanish and French.
Updated on: January 4, 2022