The terminology "zoonotic" refers to those conditions and diseases that have the characteristic of not being "species specific" but rather being transmitted from animals to humans. When referring to salmonella, the first species that come to mind are reptiles and turtles which act as the main vectors in transmitting this disease.
The risks of salmonella are usually mostly directed towards children which handle these pets quite frequently. By recognizing the risks and enforcing good handwashing practices the risks of contracting the salmonella virus can be considerably lowered.
Salmonella bacteria is found in the intestinal tracts of most reptiles. It is estimated that up to 90% of reptiles actually carry this bacterium almost all the time. Trouble begins when such salmonella bacteria are shed in the reptile's feces. When such occurrence takes place, all it may take to become infected is to touch the reptile or a surface contaminated from the reptile's feces and then ingest the bacteria by bringing the hands to the mouth. The disease may also occur indirectly, for instance, a family member touches a reptile and then goes to prepare a meal for his or her family. The food therefore, may easily become contaminated and shortly thereafter, the family members may become infected by ingesting such contaminated food.
Adults with healthy immune systems may not suffer from any effects at all when they ingest the salmonella bacteria. Some may however, get abdominal cramps followed by diarrhea and a fever. However, those with a compromised immune system or small children may get a severe form of salmonella which may even cause serious complications involving the blood stream (septicemia), the bone marrow and even the nervous system (meningitis) .
As much as reptile lovers may love to have their pets free from salmonella the present studies do not reserve any good news. Antibiotics only help the bacteria become stronger and possibly even resistant to them. Also it seems impossible to develop salmonella free specimens. There are however, many steps that a reptile owner may take in order to significantly lower the risks of contracting this disease:
-By keeping your reptile healthy, the chances of contracting bacteria are significantly lowered since the virus is mostly shed by malnourished and overstressed animals.
-By never allow ingreptiles or turtles to wander near the kitchen or other areas where food is prepared
-By disinfecting the reptile's habitat with a bleach solution thouroughly and regularly
-By avoiding to purchase a reptile or turtle for children under 5 years of age
-By possibly limiting the areas where the reptile roams, trying to keep the animal confined
- By bathing the reptile only in specific basins, without using the sink or bath tub.
- By practicing good hand washing practices and telling children not to kiss the reptiles
As seen, with proper care and strict hygiene practices reptile lovers may still enjoy their slithering friends. With just a bit caution and tender loving care, they may grant many healthy years to come, both to their reptiles, themselves and their families. Salmonella is not really a very common occurence, however, it is good practice to treat all reptiles as potentially infectious.