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Pets and Salmonella  
Some childhood pets may be a source of contamination.


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Pets and Salmonella
Some childhood pets may be a source of contamination.

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Gerber Life Family Times Archive


The holidays are upon us and it's time for every boy and girl to compile that all-important "wish list" of gift ideas for the holidays. From video game systems, fashion dolls, and MP3 players to mountain bikes, high-dollar footwear and clothes, tastes have changed quite a bit since we were children ourselves. But no matter how much some things change, there are always a few things that appear on lists regardless of the generation. One of those things is a pet and, no doubt, the majority of wishes for a new family addition come in the form of a puppy or kitten. However there are some children whose taste in pets leans toward something without hair and not quite what most people would refer to as "cuddly." Yes, for that special group of boys and girls, nothing quite answers the need for a pet like a turtle, snake, chameleon, iguana, horned toad, or even a gecko.

Reptiles are popular pet choices with many families. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that an estimated 3% of the households in the United States own at least one reptile. What many people are unaware of is that reptiles can carry a harmful germ called Salmonella that is easily transmitted to humans. The CDC adds that although most people are aware of salmonellosis as an illness caused by contaminated food, they are not aware that it can also be contracted by handling a reptile or coming in contact with its environment. Each year in the United States, the CDC notes that an estimated 70,000 people each year get salmonellosis from contact with a reptile. Because of the increased likelihood of hand-to-mouth contact and their still-developing immune systems, the CDC states that children are the most likely group to get salmonellosis. The CDC issues a specific warning for children under 5 years of age and people with weakened immune systems noting they should avoid contact with reptiles.

HealthAlthough today it is not uncommon to find small turtles being sold as pets, the sale of small turtles was stopped in the United States in 1975 when small pet turtles were discovered to be a common source of a rising number of salmonellosis cases in the early 1970s. According to the CDC, Salmonella occurs naturally in many reptiles and does not usually make the animal itself sick. This makes it impossible to tell if a snake, turtle, or lizard is carrying Salmonella just by looking at it. Even if your child isn't the new owner of a reptile pet, you'll also want to be aware of other family members and your child's group of friends—any of which may include someone with a "cool new snake" or other reptile pet that your child may have an opportunity to handle. Exposure to common reptiles doesn't necessarily have to occur in a caged environment at home either. If you live in a more rural area, your children may have access to turtles, frogs, and toads in their wild and natural environment. What adventurous boy or girl hasn't chased down a frog, just to see what they feel like?

To help protect your child and other family members, the CDC offers the following tips to help prevent transmission of salmonella from reptiles/amphibians to humans:

  • Don't allow reptiles to roam the house freely.
  • Keep reptiles out of kitchens.
  • Wash hands with soap and water immediately after handling a reptile.
  • Launder any clothing that a reptile might have touched.
  • Use soap and/or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that may have been in contact with a reptile.

So, educate yourself and your child about the concerns of handling reptile pets and what precautions to take to prevent the transmission of salmonella. After all, pets are a wonderful part of childhood and with careful handling and good hygiene practices, even non-traditional pets can find a place in your home.

As always, please consult with your family physician regarding any questions or health concerns.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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