Melissa Kaplan's
Herp Care Collection
Last updated January 1, 2014


What it is, who is at risk, and how to protect yourself

©1994 Melissa Kaplan


What Is Salmonella?
Salmonella organisms are bacterial organisms that infect a wide variety of vertebrate animals and can be transmitted from one animal to another through direct contact with feces, or through contact with something which has been contaminated with feces. Salmonellosis (infection with one of the hundreds of Salmonella organisms) can lead to extreme diarrhea, dehydration, stomach cramps, high fever, even death. In its milder manifestation, it can result in, and may often be erroneously dismissed as, the flu or "24 hour bug."

The most common source of salmonellosis is through the ingestion of contaminated food, especially chicken and eggs. Salmonellosis from reptiles is on the rise due to both the increased occurrence of reptiles as pets and due to the fact that so many are not cared for properly and owners are misled by the myth that reptiles are easy to care for animals, thus neglect to take proper steps to reduce risk of bacterial and parasite infection.


Routes Of Transmission And Other Sources Of Salmonellosis

  • The most common route of infection is through oral ingestion
  • Infection can occur through an open cut, sore or wound into the bloodstream
  • Infection can occur through splashing of contaminated material into the eyes
  • Infection can occur through inhalation of sprayed contaminated solutions and aerosols
  • Animals and animal products are the most common sources of infection
  • Improperly cooked meats, especially poultry and chopped beef, pork, turkey
  • Recontamination of cooked meats through contact with raw meats/fluids
  • Contamination of foods by Salmonella-contaminated hands of food servers or preparers
  • Contact with, ingestion or inhalation of soil contaminated with animal feces
  • Raw milk (especially among farm families) and contaminated pasteurized milk
  • Fish meal, bone meal and meat meal; fertilizers and animal feeds

Who Should Avoid Contact With Reptiles?
The following categories of people should avoid all contact, direct or indirect, with any reptile as the risk of serious, symptomatic infection with Salmonella is greatly increased:

  • Infants and children up to five years of age
  • Anyone with HIV/AIDS or other immuno-defiency disorders
  • Anyone who has had transplant surgery and is on anti-rejection therapy
  • Anyone who is on any drug which suppresses and/or alters immune system function, including steroids, cancer chemotherapy, biological response modifiers and others
  • Anyone receiving radiation treatment
  • Women who are pregnant due to risk to the fetus
  • Elderly, frail or people with poor nutritional status

If in doubt about any condition or treatment you or a household member is undergoing, consult your physician as to its effect on immune status. Consult your physician if you or any family member develops diarrhea which lasts for more than a day.


What To Do To Avoid Becoming Infected Or Acting As A Carrier

After handling any reptile be sure and wash hands with soap and hot water

Wash thoroughly for at least 30 seconds; an antibacterial soap is preferable

Washing with water only is ineffective in eliminating Salmonella

Keep reptiles out of kitchens and away from any surfaces where human food is stored, prepared or served

Do not use kitchen sinks to clean reptile accessories or caging materials

Do not touch food for human consumption after handling any reptiles or their accessories

Do not touch dishes, pots, pans or other utensils used for human food after touching any reptile or reptile accessory

Keep reptile enclosures, water and food bowls and surfaces as clean as possible

Do not permit unsupervised handling of reptiles by children under 12 years old

Teach children to wash hands thoroughly after handling any reptile

Do not handle any reptile or their caging materials with open cuts, lesions (sores) on ones hands unless such cuts are well covered with dressings; rubber gloves are recommended.

Avoid splashes to face when washing reptile enclosures and accessories

If splashing and frequent handling is unavoidable, consider wearing goggles and face-mask protection as well as surgical gloves

Do not use bathtubs or shower stalls for reptile-related operations unless thoroughly disinfected afterwards

Consult your pharmacist, physician, veterinarian or other health or pet care professional for recommendations on soaps and other products useful for disinfecting hands and surfaces

Reptiles should not be kept in any child-care facility where toddlers and pre-schoolers are cared for

Reptiles kept in classrooms should not be handled unless appropriate handwashing and clean-up facilities are available and made accessible to children and staff

Disinfectant lotions, pump sprays or similar products should be carried whenever reptiles are going to be handled in the field, in the classroom, at swap meets or other locations where handwashing facilities may be absent

Read up on proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures and check out the other Salmonella-related documents in the Zoonoses page.

Related Articles

Salmonella: Then and Now

Salmonella and Vegetables

Kids, Reptiles, and Salmonella

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