Sanitary precautions for owners of reptiles
Many reptiles, such as the popular pond sliders, are carriers of salmonellosis. People with the low defenses, like small children, can be infected with this disease if they don’t take a few basic hygienic precautions when coexisting with these animals.
But there’s no cause for alarm: having a reptile can be as safe as having a dog or a cat. Most people have a very low risk of catching salmonellosis by contact with a reptile.
What is salmonellosis?
Salmonellosis is a disease caused by a bacterium called Salmonella. Typically, that happens after consuming food or liquids contaminated with the bacteria, and the most common effect is acute gastroenteritis, with diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain.
The symptoms subside in a few days, unless there are complications.
Salmonellosis can be more dangerous for very small children, and people with a depressed immune system, such as a transplant recipients, diabetics, AIDS sufferers, or patients in chemotherapy. In these cases, salmonellosis can be much more serious, and sometimes fatal.
How can we be infected with Salmonella by a reptile?
The majority of reptiles, among other animals, have Salmonella bacteria in their digestive tract, and they eliminate it intermittently, or continuously through the feces. The bacteria are transferred to the terrarium, and through it to the skin of the animal.
For someone to catch salmonellosis, the bacteria must be ingested. The mere manipulation of a reptile will not infect anyone unless they put their hands dirty in their mouth.
Simple rules to reduce risk of contagion
It is not possible to remove Salmonella from the digestive tract of reptiles. Antibiotics are not effective, and they might contribute to make some strains of Salmonella resistant to antibiotics.
It is useless as well to analyze feces to determine if our pet is a carrier of the bacteria, because they eliminate them intermittently, so the test could generate negative results even though our pet does in fact carry them.
Fortunately, contagion can be prevented easily by following a few simple hygienic rules:
- Always wash your hands after manipulating reptiles, their feces, or materials from the terrarium.
- Do not to let your reptiles into the kitchen, dining room, or other areas where you cook or eat.
- Do not to let your reptiles into the bathtub or basins where children are bathed. You might need to limit the areas of the house where reptiles can move freely, or keep them confined to the terrarium.
- Do not eat, drink, or to smoke while manipulating reptiles, their terraria, or other materials that have been in contact with them.
- Do not kiss reptiles, nor share with them your food or water.
- Do not to use the kitchen’s sink or basins, nor the bathtub to let your reptiles swim.
- Do not use the same utensils — sponges, brushes, rags — to clean the terrarium and the kitchen.
- Throw the waste water of the terrarium to the toilet, never the sink or bathtub.
- People with immunodeficiency, and children under 5, must avoid contact with reptiles. It is preferable not to have reptiles in houses with babies less than one year old.
Follow the instructions of a specialized veterinarian for the diet and daily care of your reptile. Healthy animals who are kept in good conditions are less prone to pass Salmonella.