Salmonella Outbreak Caused by Bearded Dragons

salmonella cotham bearded dragonA salmonella Cotham outbreak has left 132 people across 31 different states infected, and according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the infection has been caused by pet lizards called bearded dragons. To date, no one has died from the outbreak; however, nearly half of the people infected have been hospitalized.

Every year, salmonella is responsible for approximately 1.2 million illnesses across the United States and of those, roughly 23,000 people require hospitalization and 450 of them do not survive. Symptoms of salmonella are typically present 12 to 72 hours after someone has been infected. The symptoms include fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea that may be bloody. While most people survive the infection, it is very uncomfortable and many require hospitalization to recover.

Many pet owners do not realize the dangers of owning bearded dragons and other types of reptiles, such as turtles, frogs, snakes, salamanders, and other lizards. Reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella and can easily infect humans even when they are properly cared for and live in clean environments. Literally, anything that a reptile touches can be contaminated with salmonella.

As a precautionary measure, the CDC advises that reptiles should be kept in cages and not allowed to roam freely throughout the owner’s home, especially in areas that contain food. Those handling the reptiles should not have their hands around their mouths or eat and drink immediately following interaction with the animal or during the time, they are holding the animal. In addition, a small plastic tub should be used when bathing a reptile; do not use the family bathtub or kitchen and bathroom sinks as a place to bathe them because those areas would become contaminated with salmonella. A small plastic tub or bucket used only to bathe the reptile will help prevent contamination and the spread of salmonella.

As a rule, young children, below the age of five, the elderly, and people who have compromised immune systems should not be in contact with reptiles because they are more susceptible to develop a severe illness from salmonella. In severe cases, salmonella can spread from the intestines and get into the bloodstream. When this happens, the patient must be treated immediately with high doses of antibiotics or they could die. Fifty-eight percent of the 132 people infected with salmonella are children that are five years of age or younger.

The CDC is advising everyone who owns bearded dragons or any other type of reptile to wash their hands thoroughly with a generous amount of soap and warm water following each interaction with the animal, their food, or their cage. This will help contain the outbreak and help prevent further spread of the bacteria.

An investigation is ongoing into the salmonella outbreak that was caused by bearded dragons. So far, the CDC has determined that the animals responsible for spreading salmonella came from several different pet stores and that no one retail supplier or chain store has been identified as the source. They are urging anyone who has been in contact with a bearded dragon and is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above to seek medical attention immediately.

By Donna W. Martin

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