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CDC reports salmonella outbreak from pet lizards

The largest number of cases—21—have occurred in California
The largest number of cases—21—have occurred in California
Robin Wulffson, MD

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released on April 23, a salmonella outbreak has sickened 132 people in 31 states since February 21, 2012. The largest number of cases—21—have occurred in California. The infection has been traced to pet lizards: bearded dragons. The agency notes that the reptiles were purchased from multiple stores in different states.

The majority (58%) of infected individuals are children five years of age or younger; 42% of them have been hospitalized. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported. No deaths have been reported. Bearded dragons are native to Australia. They are popular pets that come in a variety of colors. The specific bacterium is Salmonella Cotham. The CDC’S National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) laboratory conducted antibiotic resistance testing on isolates collected from three affected individuals. Of the three isolates collected from them, one (33%) was resistant to ceftriaxone, an antibiotic used to treat serious salmonella infections.

Young children are at increased risk for salmonella infections because their immune systems are still developing; furthermore, they are more likely to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. Salmonella can cause diarrhea (which may be bloody), vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps. On occasion, individuals can become so sick from a salmonella infection that they must be hospitalized. Infants, seniors, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, the infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream, and then to other body sites. Under these circumstances, death can occur unless prompt antibiotic treatment is initiated.

To prevent infection, the CDC recommends that individuals should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or amphibian, as well as anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Hand washing by young children should always be supervised by an adult. The agency recommends that reptiles should be kept out of homes with children younger than five years of age or individuals 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. The CDC also recommends that you 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.

The CDC offers a number of don’ts:

  • Don’t allow children younger than five years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems to 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 five 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.
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