Salmonella Bacteria Common in
Reptiles, Rodents, and Other Pets
Naturally occurring intestinal bacteria in iguanas, turtles, snakes, hamsters, mice, rats; even dogs and cats put young children at risk.
Most people associate the
Salmonella bacterium with food poisoning.
As Americans bring more exotics like lizards and ferrets into their homes along with traditional "kids pets" like rats, turtles and hamsters; Salmonella typhimurium is quickly becoming recognized as a pet disease.
Fortunately, the spread of bacterial diseases can be prevented by using a reliable broad-spectrum disinfectant like Grapefruit Seed Extract or chlorine bleach. People don't have to catch Salmonella from pets just because they may be exposed.
First Outbreak of Salmonellosis
Ever Linked to Pet Hamsters, Mice and Rats
In May, 2005 the Centers for Disease Control alerted the media to a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella with over 2 dozen documented cases of illness and likely many more that went unreported.
As usual, many of the victims were children. Average age was 16 years old with roughly 30% being younger than 7. Several had to be hospitalized.
Thirteen patients picked up the bacteria from animals bought at retail pet stores: Seven from mice or rats bought to feed to pet snakes, two from hamsters and four from pet mice or rats.
The CDC has warned gerbils, rabbits, ferrets, and guinea pigs could also carry the germ.
Even more alarming, two cases became ill WITHOUT handling the animals directly. They apparently caught the disease from other people who were already infected.
According to CBS News, the germ involved was "resistant to five drugs spanning several classes of antibiotics." While most adults recover after a few days of severe diarrhea, vomiting, and high fever, the increasing incidence of antibiotic-resistance signals a clear potential health danger.
Samonella is closely related to species of E. coli. and Shigella. Salmonellosis is serious and potentially fatal, especially for infants, young children, the elderly, or anyone with a weakened immune system.
The current outbreak has been traced to wholesale pet "livestock" distributors in Georgia, Iowa, and Arkansas. So far there is no apparent link between these three businesses. The CDC has stressed the need for "heightened infection-control practices by pet stores and distributors, including routine sanitizing of animal transport containers and cages."
Kittens and Puppies Carry Bacterium, Too
"Salmonellosis is common in greyhound kennels. Morbidity can approach 100% in puppies and the mortality ranges to nearly 40%," according to Vaccine's Feb 22, 2002 issue.
Cats appear to be a bit more resistant to Salmonella, but the bacterium can infect kittens or any cat that is malnourished or under other physical stress. Birds are also known to fall victim to Salmonella and related bacterial strains.
Keep your animal and avian companions and their environment clean.
And - like Grandma told
us all - WASH YOUR HANDS - after handling any pet OR their cages.
Cages, litter boxes, etc.
should never be cleaned in the kitchen sink.
Remember to use an effective broad-spectrum disinfectant to clean pet areas and pet accessories - especially if the animal or bird has been experiencing diarrhea.
Don't eat or smoke or touch your eyes until you wash up.
Protect the very young, the very old, the immune-compromised, and women during pregnancy from exposure whenever possible.
Young children and Alzheimers patients need to be closely supervised when handling pets.
As Dane Bernard, a microbiologist with the National Food Processors Association told Dog Fancy Magazine several years ago,
"You have to assume salmonella is everywhere."
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