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Outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to snakes and rodents (Health Canada) & Safe handling of reptiles (CDC)

**** CDC / Health Canada Release

* CDC

Healthy reptiles and amphibians can carry Salmonella and other germs that can make people sick.  But there’s good news! You can help keep yourself healthy around your pet reptiles and amphibians.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling reptiles and amphibians, and anything in the area where they live or roam such as their habitats, food, or equipment.
  • Reptiles and amphibians are not recommended for children under the age of five. This includes in households or school settings. Children younger than 5 years of age, people with weak immune systems, and senior citizens should not handle or touch amphibians or reptiles or their environment because they are at a higher risk for serious illness and hospitalization from Salmonella
  • Keep your reptiles and amphibians and their equipment out of your kitchen or anywhere in your home where food is prepared, served, or consumed. Never use food-preparation areas to clean reptile and amphibian habitats or anything in their habitats. These items should be cleaned outside of your home. If you clean the habitat in the bathroom, thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right afterwards.
  • Don’t cross-contaminate! You don’t have to touch a reptile or amphibian to get sick from their germs. Be aware that any reptile food such as frozen or live rodents, equipment, and materials, including the tank water, can be contaminated with Salmonella and other germs.
  • Do not kiss or snuggle with reptiles and amphibians because this will increase your risk of getting sick.

Follow these safe handling steps and enjoy your pets!

* Health Canada

Public Health Notice: Outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to snakes and rodents

Why should you take note

The Public Health Agency of Canada is collaborating with provincial public health partners to investigate an outbreak of Salmonella infections occurring in six provinces. The outbreak is ongoing, as recent illnesses continue to be reported to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Based on the investigation findings to date, exposure to both snakes and rodents has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak. Many of the individuals who became sick reported having direct or indirect contact with snakes, pet rats and feeder rodents (used as reptile food) before their illnesses occurred. The investigation is ongoing, and it is possible that other sources could be identified.

In an effort to prevent further illnesses, Canadians are advised to practise good hand hygiene, frequent handwashing and safe handling of snakes and rodents, their food and their environments.

This public health notice will be updated as the investigation evolves.

How do you get Salmonella from snakes and rodents

Both reptiles and rodents can carry Salmonella bacteria even though they appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness. Even having indirect contact with these animals or their environments can put you at risk for developing a Salmonella infection. For example, children playing in a room where a reptile was previously allowed to roam can be at risk of an infection.

Investigation summary

As of December 10, 2019, there are 92 confirmed cases of Salmonella Typhimurium illness in the following provinces: British Columbia (4), Ontario (16), Quebec (52), New Brunswick (9), Nova Scotia (5) and Newfoundland and Labrador (6). Individuals became sick between April 2017 and October 2019. Six individuals have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Individuals who became ill are between 0 and 88 years of age. The majority of cases (57%) are female.

The collaborative outbreak investigation was initiated this fall because of an increase in reports of Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses in multiple jurisdictions across Canada. Cases have continued to be reported since the investigation was initiated. Through the use of a laboratory method called whole genome sequencing, some Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses dating back to 2017 and 2018 were identified to have the same genetic strain as the illnesses that occurred in 2019.

It is possible that more recent illnesses may be reported in the outbreak because there is a period of time between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between 4 and 5 weeks.

In Canada, Salmonella Typhimurium is a common strain with an average of 750 cases reported per year to the Public Health Agency of Canada. There have been past outbreaks of Salmonella illnesses linked to snakes and rodents, and the findings from these investigations have highlighted the important role snake and rodent owners can play in preventing new illnesses linked to these types of pets.

Who is most at risk

Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection, but children aged 5 years and under, older adults, pregnant women or people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for contracting serious illness.

Most people who become ill from a Salmonella infection will recover fully after a few days. It is possible for some people to be infected with the bacteria and to not get sick or show any symptoms, but to still be able to spread the infection to others.

What should you do to protect your health

Following these simple steps will help to reduce your risk of becoming ill from contact with reptiles, rodents and their environments.

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching a reptile or rodent, and anything they eat, or after being in the area where they live, play or touch.
  • Regularly clean any surfaces or objects your reptile or rodent touches with soapy water followed by a household sanitizer.
  • Never kiss a pet rodent or reptile.
  • Do not keep reptiles or rodents in homes, daycare centres, schools or other facilities with children aged 5 years and under.
  • Always supervise children when they touch or play with reptiles or rodents. Do not let them put reptiles and rodents or their supplies near their face or share their food or drinks with pets. Make sure they thoroughly wash their hands after touching reptiles or rodents.
  • Do not clean or bathe reptiles and rodents in the kitchen sink or in bathroom sinks or bathtubs.
  • Do not keep food used for reptiles or rodents in the kitchen or any room where people eat or drink.
  • Keep reptiles and rodents and all their food, containers and toys away from the kitchen and other places where food is made or eaten.
  • Do not keep frozen rodents in the same fridge or freezer as human food. Freezing rodents does not kill Salmonella.
  • Always defrost and prepare frozen rodents outside the kitchen, using dedicated utensils and containers.
  • Be aware of the specific needs of your reptile. Stress for a reptile can increase shedding of Salmonella.
  • Always keep reptiles and live rodents in habitats specifically designed for them.
  • If you choose to have a reptile or rodent in your home, talk to your health care provider or veterinarian about the right reptile or rodent for your family, especially if your family includes children, pregnant women, immunocompromised individuals, or adults 65 years of age and over.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, called salmonellosis, typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to Salmonella bacteria from an infected animal, person, or contaminated product.

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting

These symptoms usually last for 4 to 7 days. In healthy people, salmonellosis often clears up without treatment. In some cases, severe illness and hospitalization may occur. In some cases, antibiotics may be required. People who are infected with Salmonella bacteria can be infectious from several days to several weeks. People who experience symptoms, or who have underlying medical conditions, should contact their health care provider if they suspect they have a Salmonella infection.

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