Alberta Health Services is reporting a cluster of Salmonella infections linked to pet reptiles. In many ways, this isn’t overly remarkable (unless you’re one of the people that’s infected). Reptile contact is a very well-known risk factor for acquiring Salmonella, especially in kids.
So far, 12 infections have been reported. Reported cases are always going to be an under-estimate..perhaps by a factor of 5-10 (or greater), so more infections are presumably out there.
- There’s no link to a specific event, pet store or other common source. Cases are from homes with snakes, and infection has been linked to both snakes and feeder rodents.
Feeder rodents are rodents that are purchased as snake food. They’re often frozen and have been the source of large outbreaks in the past. Here, if the link is to both snakes and feeder rodents, feeder rodents are presumably the root cause, since infected rodents can lead to infection of the snakes, and people can be infected from handling the snake or the rodent.
A big concern here is the scope of the problem. Feeder rodent-associated outbreaks can be large and widespread if the supplier is a big one that sells lots of rodents. Presumably the source is being investigated and hopefully addressed.
Regardless, this is yet another reminder about some basic preventive measures when it comes to Salmonella and reptiles.
- High risk people (kids <5 yrs of age, elderly individuals, pregnant women and immunocompromised individuals) should avoid reptile contact. (Reptiles shouldn’t be in the house, since indirect exposure is common).
- Feeder rodents should be handled like you’d handle raw meat for human consumption…assume they are contaminated, avoid cross-contamination with human food or food prep surfaces and handle them with care.
- Assume all reptiles are shedding Salmonella in their feces and that their enclosures are contaminated.
- Wash your hands after contact with reptiles, feeder rodents or reptile enclosures.
- Make sure your physician knows you have reptile contact if you’re sick.