All pets have the potential of spreading zoonotic diseases, not just reptiles. These illnesses can be spread by bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites entering the mouth; they can also be spread through the air, or by a break on the skin. Infants, young children, pregnant women and the infirm or elderly are at greater risk of infection and should use extra caution when in contact with pet reptiles or their habitats.
Here are 4 zoonotic diseases that are frequently associated with reptiles.
Practice Proper Hygiene
It’s important to first note that good hygiene is the most effective way to prevent the spread of illness between your family and pets – whether they are dogs and cats or reptiles. Thorough hand washing with soap and water after handling your pet, or cleaning your pet habitats, is essential. Additionally, many experts recommend that homes with children under the age of five forgo keeping reptiles as pets to minimize the risk of zoonotic infections.
Salmonella are commonly found in all types of reptiles and can spread from reptiles to humans when something contaminated with reptile feces is placed in the mouth. For example, infants can become infected with Salmonella by drinking bottles of formula contaminated by contact with the reptile/reptile feces. Salmonella infection causes diarrhea, headache, fever and stomach cramps and can result in septicaemia (blood poisoning).
Botulism is a serious and life-threatening illness caused by a toxin released by the Clostridium bacterium that causes paralysis and death. Clostridium is found widely in the environment including soil and mud as spores and animals that live close to the ground are commonly contaminated with clostridium. Clostridium commonly contaminates reptiles, especially aquatic reptiles like turtles. Adults and older children have a range of bacteria that overgrow the spores responsible but small babies under the age of one year have not yet developed this protection.
Campylobacteriosis is one of the common forms of bacterial infections in humans. It is caused by a bacterium known as Campylobacter and leads to symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever within 2-5 days after swallowing the bacterium (generally through contamination of food or water).
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection frequently found both in wild and domestic animals such as dogs, cats and reptiles. The infection is spread through contact with urine of animals carrying the bacterium. This contact can occur directly through cuts and scratches on your body or through the lining of the mouth, throat and eyes. The bacteria can also get into water or soil which and survive there for weeks to months. The majority of people with Leptospirosis have a flu-like illness, with a persistent and severe headache.