Madison Area Herpetological Society

Reptiles and Salmonella: What You Need to Know!

Reptiles and Salmonella: What You Need to Know!
By Eric Roscoe

Salmonella is a genus of primarily rod shaped bacteria found worldwide, with two species being known, Salmonella enterica and Salmonella bongori, which is by far the more commonly seen species in the digestive tracts, as well as on or in the skin, scales, food, and water of captive reptiles and amphibians, as well as other animals. According to the CDC (or Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, dehydration, fever, and/or abdominal cramping anywhere from 12 to 72 hours and lasting anywhere from 4 to 7 days, with most individuals recovering. However, sometimes more serious signs and symptoms can manifest requiring hospitalization, particularly among elderly adults, infants and young children 5 and under, and those with otherwise compromised immune systems.

Reports and accounts mentioning the zoonotic disease (diseases & parasites which can be transferred to humans from animals) potential when keeping pets have become increasingly commonplace in the news and media. Reptiles and other “exotics” are frequently depicted by anti-pet organizations and the media as posing a serious public health and safety risk due to the transmission of Reptile associated salmonellosis (RAS) and other such zoonotic diseases. However, the truth is that they only make up a very minuscule percentage of overall numbers of cases, and that many other animals and sources can also be sources for infection. Provided below is a breakdown of salmonella case data from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) examining human and non human sources of infection. Unfortunately, 2009 is the most recently available published data from the CDC on RAS that we could locate and are aware of. Most of the more recent published RAS data and statistics are concerning specific outbreaks of zoonotic diseases involving reptiles or other pets.  We will continue to keep a look out for additional published statistics from the CDC and other sources as much as possible.

MAHS has ample facts, talking points, and statistics on hand to help put public health issues involving reptiles in proper perspective and to help defend your ability to keep animals on all levels from false and exaggerated public health/safety claims. Practicing basic, common sense hygiene measures as well as husbandry, cleaning, and handling will greatly reduce the likelihood of contracting illnesses. Despite these risks, the benefits of having any pet outweigh the potential risks greatly. Keeping reptiles, and pets in general, contributes to many different factors including but not limited to child development, providing mental therapy, stimulation, and companionship, and improve overall health.

There are an estimated 1.4 million cases of salmonella with 19,000 hospitalizations and 380 deaths every year (CDC 2007-2008) according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention website (CDC).

Crested Geckos (Salmonella Muenchen)-2015 
-22 cases
-3 hospitalizations
-0 deaths
0.0015% of total cases, 0.015% of hospitalizations, 0% of deaths.

Bearded Dragons (Salmonella Cotham and Salmonella Kisarawe)-2012-2014 
-166 cases
-61 hospitalizations (37%)
-0 deaths
0.012% of total cases, 0.321% of hospitalizations, 0% of deaths.

Frozen Feeder Rodents (Salmonella Typhimurium)-2014 
-41 cases
-6.5 hospitalizations (16%)
-0 deaths.
0.0029% of cases, 0.034% of hospitalizations, 0% of deaths.

Turtles (Salmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona, and Salmonella Poona)-2012-2013 
-473 cases.
-78 hospitalizations.
-0 deaths.
0.337% of cases, 0.411% of hospitalizations, 0% of deaths.

Hedgehogs (another common exotic animal species) (Salmonella Typhimurium)-2012 
-26 cases.
-8 hospitalizations
-1 death
0.0018% of cases, 0.042% of hospitalizations, 0.26% of deaths.

April 2015 issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood -2010-2013 
-175 children under 5 years contracted salmonella during this time frame.
-Approximately 48 reptile associated cases (27.4%).
-23 hospitalizations thereof (48%).
– 17% of children hospitalized with “reptile related salmonella” developed a more serious infection requiring surgery (8 cases)
– 2.7% of households owned a reptile in 2013 (3,306,393 households).
0.0014% of reptiles associated with cases, 0.0007% of reptiles associated with hospitalizations, 0.00024% of reptiles associated with more serious complications.

CDC Salmonella Statistics from 2009 

48,699 cases of laboratory-confirmed salmonellosis in 2009

40,828 (84%) from human sources

7,871 (16%) cases from non-human sources

Salmonella infections from non-human sources:

  • Chicken:  4,464
  • Turkey:  914
  • Porcine:  339
  • Bovine:  336
  • Other Birds / Wild Animals:  136
  • Equine:  74
  • Reptile:  19
  • Other Domestic Animals:   6
  • All Other Sources:  1,583

Overall, keeping reptiles and amphibians poses only a miniscule risk of contracting salmonella. Below, you will also find some of MAHS’ basic recommendations every owner can take to keep their pets, and themselves healthy.

  • Any owner of reptiles or amphibians should wash, disinfect, or sanitize their hands after touching or handling an animal, its feeders, and/or its substrate or other furnishings.
  • Children under 5 and those with lessened or compromised immune systems should either avoid contact or use extra precautions when dealing with reptiles & amphibians.
  • Not to allow any reptile or amphibian free roam or access to free roam around the home or other living area.
  • Keeping reptiles & amphibians and/or enclosures or supplies to be cleaned and maintained out of food preparatory areas (kitchens) and personal hygiene areas (such as bathroom sinks, etc).
  • Avoid kissing or otherwise engaging in close facial contact with any reptile or amphibian.
  • Perhaps most importantly, maintain cleanliness of animal enclosures and/or other areas where animals are specifically designated to be kept.