Heads up, reptile lovers: Pet bearded dragons are linked to a salmonella outbreak across eight states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced.
At least 13 people across eight states — Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington — have been sickened by an outbreak of Salmonella Muenster, the CDC said.
At least seven people have been hospitalized as a result, and five people who are sickened are younger than 5 years old.
“Epidemiologic and laboratory evidence shows that contact with pet bearded dragons is the likely source of this outbreak,” the CDC said, noting that 77% of people interviewed said they had “contact with a bearded dragon” before falling ill.
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“Ill people reported purchasing bearded dragons from pet stores in multiple states. A common supplier has not been identified,” the agency noted, adding, “The outbreak strain making people sick was identified in samples collected from a bearded dragon and its environment from the home of an ill person in Virginia.”
Salmonella is a bacteria that can infect humans when they consume contaminated water or food. However, bearded dragons “can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, habitats, and anything in the area where they live,” the CDC said. “You can get sick from touching your bearded dragon or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or face and swallowing Salmonella germs.”
Symptoms of salmonella usually develop 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria, with most people developing diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. The illness usually lasts four to seven days and most people recover without treatment.
“In some people, the illness may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized,” according to the CDC. “Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.”
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Federal health officials say that children younger than 5 years of age, pregnant women, adults 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
The CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year.
To prevent salmonella infections, bearded dragon owners should:
- Wash hands after touching or feeding the reptile
- Play safely; “Don’t kiss or snuggle your bearded dragon, or eat or drink around it,” the CDC warns, adding that these animals should be kept out of food preparation areas
- Keep things cleans; clean the reptile’s tanks, food and water containers and toys — preferably outside
- Pick the right pet; bearded dragons and other reptiles “are not recommended for children under 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems because they are more likely to get serious illness from germs that reptiles can carry,” per the CDC