Salmonella and Other Zoonoses: The Basics
©2002 Melissa Kaplan
If you have an iguana, chances are someone you know has already grilled you or freaked you out because they think you are going to get sick or die because your iguana has Salmonella. There is indeed a risk of contracting or causing others to contract a Salmonella infection from your iguana if you are not aware of the potential for infection and fail to take adequate means to avoid infection and transmission.
What the person who informed you about iguana salmonellosis probably doesn't know is that he or she is just as likely to get sick from other reptiles, other pets, and foodborne organisms and chemicals.
Potentially harmful organisms and chemicals are all around us - and in us. Iguanas have been making headlines in the past decade because they were the top-selling reptile in the US (and increasingly in other countries) and were sold by people who were clueless about zoonoses to people who were equally clueless. When the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) was recommending iguanas as great holiday gifts because they are so easy to care for, with no mention of any health concerns, well, it was only a matter of time before iguana-associated salmonellosis became a well publicized public health issue. Back in the 1960s through the early 1970s, headlines and health concerns were centered around the equally cheap, widely sold--and wildly ill-treated--aquatic turtles who were riddled with Salmonella.
The reality is that all reptiles can--and a significant number do--carry one or more serotypes of Salmonella and many other organisms that can cause illness in humans and other animals. By the same token, all mammals and birds can be host to a wide range of bacterial and viral organisms that can cause illness in healthy humans as well as those individuals who are at high risk for infections. Amphibians and fish can also be vectors for some zoonotic organisms.
and Wildlife-Associated Zoonoses
*The prion causing bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) and ovine spongiform encephalopathy (scrapie) is also responsible for atypical Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). Prion diseases have been recorded in the U.S., as they are found in cattle, elk, mink, mule deer, and squirrel. CJD in Kentucky humans has been linked to their consumption of squirrel brains.
Foodborne organisms include:
can also be caused by viruses, including:
Gastroenteritis and other symptoms can also be caused by various marine toxins. Seafood and fish that contain these organisms may look, smell and taste just fine. The most common diseases caused by marine toxins in the U.S. are, in order of frequency, scombrotoxic fish poisoning, ciguatera poisoning, paralytic shellfish poisoning, neurotoxic shellfish poisoning, and amnesic shellfish poisoning. The ones that cause can cause gastritis-type symptoms are:
of Salmonella and Other Enteric Organisms
How sick an infected person will get depends on several things, including the serotype of Salmonella, the number of organisms ingested, and how well the person's body (immune system, gut function, state of health overall, etc.) is equipped to handle the infection. Some individuals are considered to be at high risk just due to their age or health status.
If one has a reptile and becomes ill as described above, it may be reptile-related salmonellosis, or it may be salmonellosis from another source (meat, poultry, eggs, produce, or foods prepared with these ingredients), or another foodborne organism or zoonotic organism from another type of pet.
Knowing that there is a potential for zoonotic illness, and taking proper precautions to prevent such transmission, will greatly reduce the risk of getting sick or causing illness in others.
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