Pet Reptiles and Amphibians
Reptiles, Amphibians, and Salmonella
Did you know that reptiles and amphibians like turtles, lizards, and frogs can carry a harmful germ called Salmonella? If there are young children in your home, reptiles and amphibians might not be safe pets for your family.
Hundreds of people have become ill in several ongoing, nationwide Salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles. Most victims are children under 5 years old. CDC warns parents [PDF - 341KB] to keep small turtles and other reptiles away from young children.
Reptiles and amphibians are popular pets with many families. Turtles, frogs, iguanas, snakes, geckos, horned toads, salamanders, and chameleons are colorful, quiet, and often kept as pets. Reptiles and amphibians frequently carry a germ called Salmonella that can cause serious illness in people. Although many people think that Salmonella infections are caused only by contaminated food, these germs can also be caught by handling animals, including reptiles or amphibians. Salmonella infections can also result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, including the water from containers or aquariums where they live.
How do people get Salmonella infections from reptiles and amphibians?
Reptiles and amphibians might have Salmonella germs on their bodies even when they appear healthy and clean. The germs can also get on cages, aquariums, terrariums, the water reptiles and amphibians live or swim in, and other containers that house them. Anything that reptiles and amphibians touch should be considered possibly contaminated with Salmonella. When you touch reptiles and amphibians, the germs can get on your hands or clothing. It is important to wash your hands immediately after touching animals, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums, because the germs on your hands can easily spread to other people or things.
How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians?
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or amphibian, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
Don't let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch amphibians or reptiles, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums.
Don't touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals.
Don't let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
Don't bathe animals or clean their habitats in your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub. To prevent cross-contamination, animals should be bathed in a small plastic tub or bin that is dedicated for animal use only.
If bathtubs must be used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterward. Use bleach to disinfect a sink, bathtub, or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.
Who is especially at risk for getting sick?
Young children are at increased risk for Salmonella infection because their immune systems are still developing and because they are more likely than others to put their fingers or other items into their mouths. Therefore, families with children aged 5 years or younger in the home should avoid keeping reptiles or amphibians as pets.
What are the signs, symptoms, and types of treatment available for Salmonella infections?
Salmonella can make people sick with
Diarrhea (which may be bloody)
Sometimes, people can become so sick from a Salmonella infection that they have to go to the hospital. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness. When severe infection occurs, Salmonella may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other body sites and can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
You can learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment of Salmonella infection by visiting the CDC's Salmonella website. If you suspect you or your child has Salmonella infection, please contact your health care provider immediately.
Are there any restrictions about owning amphibians or reptiles?
Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length. This size was chosen because small children are more likely to treat smaller turtles as toys and put them in their mouths. This ban prohibiting the sale of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis.