Exotic Reptiles And Amphibians Can Cause Salmonellosis

Reptiles and amphibians are natural sources of bacteria that cause salmonellosis. Several outbreaks have been detected in the United States in recent decades that have originated in these animals.
Exotic reptiles and amphibians can cause salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a disease transmitted by enterobacteria of the genus Salmonella . Some species of this taxon live naturally on reptiles and amphibians. For this reason, it is important to take certain precautions when handling almost all exotic species,  such as reptiles and amphibians, as they can cause salmonellosis. This is especially true of those caught in the wild.

The same animal can carry several strains of salmonella bacteria in the body and it can be part of the animal’s natural biome. Fortunately, it is easy to kill these bacteria with many common disinfectants and even with heat. So by being careful when handling reptiles and amphibians, you can learn to avoid infection.

Can reptiles and amphibians cause salmonellosis?

Various species of  Salmonella live in the intestines of infected reptiles – although they show no symptoms – and spread mainly through fecal-oral infection. This is because feces from the infected animal will continuously or intermittently contain the potentially pathogenic bacteria.

Stools from other reptiles and contaminated food, water or substrates can infect a reptile or amphibian. In turn, salmonella bacteria reach humans by handling a reptile or amphibian, or by objects, water or food contaminated with feces.

These bacteria can survive for long periods at room temperature. This is even more true if the climate is hot and humid, as terrariums for amphibians and reptiles usually are. In fact, even after the animal has been removed from the terrarium, the bacteria can remain.


Salmonellosis in humans

After salmonella infection, the first symptoms may appear between 6 and up to 70 hours after contact. Then they can last from 24 hours to 12 days. The main symptom of salmonellosis is gastroenteritis, which can occur in varying degrees of severity. Asymptomatic infections may also occur. In Sweden, 3,000–4,000 people get salmonellosis every year.

With the typical gastroenteritis from salmonella, other associated symptoms appear. Among them we find the following:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • fever and chills
  • myalgia, i.e. characteristic muscle pain

In many cases, the symptoms disappear spontaneously in 1-7 days. However, the infection can be more serious in very young, elderly or people with a weakened immune system. Despite this, in very few cases does it lead to death.

The treatment of salmonellosis consists of the administration of a number of different antibiotics, as many strains are resistant to one or more of them. If you own a reptile or amphibian and you experience symptoms such as those we have described, it is important that you consult your doctor.

You must tell which animals you have in your house in order for the doctor to make a diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment.

How to prevent getting salmonellosis from reptiles and amphibians

There are no vaccines to prevent the disease, but you can follow a number of recommendations to prevent salmonellosis associated with reptiles and amphibians. Here is a list of the most important tips to be safe even though you have exotic pets:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water – and do it often – after handling reptiles or their terrariums or habitats.
  • Change clothes after contact with animals. This is especially important before spending time with young children as well as the elderly or people who have a weakened immune system. Everyone is more likely to develop complications from an infection.
  • Avoid eating, drinking or smoking when handling reptiles or terrariums.
  • Do not allow reptiles to roam freely in the house.
  • Keep animal terrariums away from the kitchen and other cooking areas.
  • Do not use the sink to bathe reptiles or clean bowls, terrariums or accessories. If you use it for this purpose, you must disinfect it completely after each use.

As obvious as it may sound, it is important not to kiss or share food with reptiles or amphibians.

Can reptiles and amphibians get salmonellosis?

As a precaution, you should always assume that reptiles and amphibians carry these bacteria and follow the guidelines above to prevent infection. There are documented cases of iguanas, turtles, lizards, snakes, chameleons, frogs, salamanders and many other reptiles and amphibians. In many cases, bacteria of these species are included in their natural bacterial flora.

Nevertheless, disease in these animals is very rare. The incubation period is very varied and in addition the symptoms only appear when the animal is very stressed or has another disease.

There are tests to detect salmonella in these animals, and you can consult a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pets if you need it. Treatment with antibiotics in reptiles is not recommended, as it usually worsens the clinical picture of the sick animal.

salmonellos from the iguana

In many cases, elimination of the bacteria is also not possible, and control is limited to preventing outbreaks of clinical diseases and avoiding the transmission of bacteria to humans. Good hygiene and minimization of stress for the animal are also important factors in ensuring their health. Also keep in mind that other mammals can also suffer from salmonellosis.

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