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Public Health Notice: Outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to contact with bearded dragons

27 May 2014

Why you should take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with Provincial public health partners and the United States Centers for Disease Control and PreventionExternal Link (CDC) to investigate an outbreak of salmonellosis linked to contact with pet bearded dragons.

The risk to Canadians is low, but reptile owners and anyone who is around these types of pets could be at risk if they don’t take proper precautions.

Reptiles can carry Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness. Even having indirect contact with these animals or their environments can put you at risk for developing Salmonellosis (for example, children playing in a room where a reptile was previously allowed to roam).

Ongoing investigation

Since January 2012, there have been 9 cases of Salmonella Cotham reported in Canada. The current investigation is focussed on 4 recent cases of human illness in Alberta (2) and Ontario (2); 3 of 4 cases were children under 2 years of age. Of these 4 cases, 2 individuals were hospitalized and have recovered. No deaths have been reported. All 4 cases had direct or indirect contact with reptiles prior to becoming ill; 3 cases specifically reported exposure to pet bearded dragons. The CDC has reported similar casesExternal Link.

The Agency routinely investigates multi-provincial gastro-intestinal illness outbreaks, including different strains of Salmonella in an effort to determine if illnesses are linked to the same source. Outbreaks associated with reptiles have been seen in Canada, the United States and countries throughout Europe. The Agency will update Canadians when new information becomes available.

Who is most at risk?

Canadians who are particularly at risk for infection include babies, children five and under, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weaker immune systems. Young children are at higher risk of infection because they often enjoy handling and interacting with reptiles and may not wash their hands before putting their fingers or other contaminated items in or near their mouths. If infected, young children are also at increased risk for serious illness because their immune systems are still developing.

Infants and small children can even get infected without direct contact with a reptile. Simply being in an environment where a reptile is being housed or roams, or having contact with someone who has handled a reptile and then not washing their hands before feeding or touching the child, can get a young child sick.

What you should do

The best way to protect yourself from developing salmonellosis is to practice good hygiene. Reptiles carry Salmonella as a normal part of their gut and can shed these bacteria into their environments. This shedding poses a health risk to individuals who have contact with these animals. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after feeding, handling or cleaning up the area where pet reptiles live and roam. Any surfaces a reptile touches are considered contaminated and therefore need to be disinfected with soap or bleach.

The habitat and contents of a reptile tank 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.

Keep reptiles out of homes with pregnant women, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems, babies and children younger than five years old. Reptiles should not be kept in daycare centers, schools, or other facilities where children younger than five years old are present. If children do come in contact with reptiles, always ensure they are supervised so that they do not put reptiles or reptile-contaminated objects near their mouths. Immediately following any interaction with reptiles, children should wash their hands while being supervised by an adult.

Pet-owners should also wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after feeding, handling or cleaning up after their pets.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to a contaminated product. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills
  • Headache

These symptoms usually last four to seven days. In healthy people, salmonellosis often clears up without treatment. People who experience severe symptoms, or who have underlying medical conditions, should contact their health care providers if they suspect they have a Salmonella infection.

What the Public Health Agency of Canada is doing

The Public Health Agency of Canada is in regular contact with its federal and provincial partners in health, and the CDC as part of this investigation. The Agency will work with its partners and take appropriate action to protect Canadians if this event should escalate and pose an increased risk to the health of Canadians.

Additional information

Public Health Agency of Canada’s information on Salmonella and Reptiles

Media Contact

Public Health Agency of Canada
Media Relations
(613) 957-2983