June 11, 2014
This public health notice has been updated to reflect 2 additional cases in Ontario that have been added to the investigation. In 2014, a total of 22 illnesses have been reported in three provinces: BC, ON, and QC.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with Provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of salmonellosis related to snakes and rodents used to feed reptiles, such as mice, also known as feeder rodents.
The risk to Canadians is low, but anyone who is around snakes and their food could be at risk if they don’t take proper precautions to protect their health.
The Agency will update Canadians when new information becomes available. Outbreaks associated with reptiles and feeder rodents have been seen in Canada, the United States and countries throughout Europe.
Reptiles and the rodents used to feed them 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.
The Agency and Provincial public health partners are investigating illnesses of Salmonella Typhimurium with the same genetic fingerprint. In 2014, there have been 22 illnesses reported in British Columbia (1), Ontario (18) and Quebec (3). Three cases were hospitalized and have recovered. No deaths have been reported. The investigation is ongoing but currently, 13 of 16 cases interviewed reported contact with snakes and feeder rodents.
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. In Canada, Salmonella Typhimurium is a common strain of Salmonella with an average of 750 cases reported per year to the Agency.
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 allowed to roam, or having contact with someone who has handled a reptile without washing their hands prior to feeding or touching the child, can get a young child sick.
The best way to protect yourself from developing salmonellosis is to practice good hygiene while caring for and cleaning up after your reptile. Rodents and reptiles carry Salmonella as a normal part of their gut and can shed these bacteria into their environments. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling rodents, reptiles, or anything in the area where they live or were handled. It is recommended that parents supervise hand washing for young children. Any surface that a reptile or rodent (live or frozen) touches is considered contaminated and therefore needs to be cleaned with soap or disinfected with 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.
Reptile foods should not be kept in the kitchen or room where people eat or drink. Dead rodents should not be kept in the same fridge as human food and frozen rodents should be prepared and defrosted outside of the kitchen using dedicated utensils and containers. Do not thaw frozen feeder rodents in microwaves used for human food.
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 and amphibians, children should wash their hands while being supervised by an adult.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to a contaminated product. Symptoms include:
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.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is in regular contact with its federal and provincial partners in health 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.
Public Health Agency of Canada