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Last updated January 1, 2014

States Hatch Warning Labels for Reptiles

APB News (USA) 05 April 00


(Janet Prasad) Springfield, Illinois. (AP): Snakes, lizards and turtles, often kept as pets in homes and schools, can share infections with their owners, especially by spreading the dangerous salmonella bacteria, warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the wake of that warning, Illinois legislators have adopted a bill that would require pet shops to include a health warning with every reptile sold, and a number of other states have either mandated warnings or barred reptiles from day-care centers and some other facilities.

"There is a real danger with a child's immune system -- they are much more susceptible to salmonella," said state Rep. Joe Lyons. "Snakes and reptiles can have that all over them, and it can easily be transmitted to children."

Reptiles are particularly likely to carry salmonella, even if the animal is healthy, according to the CDC. Between 1,500 and 2,500 cases of salmonella are reported in Illinois each year, with about 60 of those cases being reptile-related. The bill that would amend the state's Animal Welfare Act has been sent to Gov. George Ryan for approval. Under the new law, pet shops selling reptiles would have to post safe-handling notices or distribute information to each buyer.

Jim Scott, manager of Finz N Featherz Petz in Jasper, Tenn., said the information is necessary. "We do caution customers about the risk and warn them about good hand-washing techniques," he added.

Checking states In March 1999, the CDC contacted the health department in each state to check whether state regulations were in place regarding the sale of reptiles. California, Connecticut and Michigan require pet stores to provide information about salmonella poisoning to people buying turtles, while Kansas and Maryland extend that to all reptiles. Arizona, Minnesota and Wyoming have prohibited reptiles in day-care centers and long-term care facilities.

Sean McDermott, director of policy development for the Cook County Department of Public Health, which includes Chicago, said that health officials estimate between 1 percent and 10 percent of salmonella cases are diagnosed and reported. "There are about 60 cases statewide where contact with reptiles is indicated as the risk factor," McDermott said. "So, based on those numbers, we can approximate that 600 to 6,000 cases take place in Illinois."

The disease Salmonella, the name for a group of about 2,000 bacteria that reproduce in the digestive tract, is found any place animals live, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Often mistaken for a stomach flu, salmonella poisoning causes headache, muscle aches, diarrhea, vomiting, chills, fever, nausea and dehydration that can last 24 hours to 12 days. Children and the elderly are the most susceptible.

On its Web site, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta publishes a list of recommendations for preventing the transmission of salmonella from reptiles to humans. They include:

Retailers, veterinarians and pediatricians should provide information to owners and potential purchasers of reptiles about the risk for acquiring salmonella from reptiles.

Reptile owners should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling the animals or their cages.

Children under 5, people with compromised immune systems and others at increased risk of infection or serious complications should avoid contact with reptiles.

Reptiles should be kept out of households where children younger than 5 years old and immunocompromised persons live. Families expecting a new child should remove the reptile from the home before the infant arrives.

Child-care centers should not keep pet reptiles.

Reptiles should not be allowed to roam freely throughout the home or living area.

Reptiles should be kept out of kitchens and other food preparation areas to prevent contamination. Kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe reptiles or to wash their dishes, cages or aquariums. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected with bleach.

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