Steven D. Garner, DVM, DABVP Diplomate
American Board of Veterinary Practitioners
Chief of Staff, Safari Veterinary Care Centers

What is Salmonellosis?

Salmonellosis is a zoonosis of worldwide economic importance in humans and animals. Infection of animals with various species of Salmonella sometimes results in serious disease and always constitutes a vast reservoir for the disease in humans . The interplay of Salmonella with its host takes a variety of forms including remarkable host specificity, inapparent infections, recovered carriers, enteritis, septicemia, abortion, and combinations of disease syndromes. Salmonella organisms are readily transferred from animal to animal, animal to humans, and human to human by direct or indirect pathways.

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/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 servers/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
  • Reptiles are popular pets in the United States. An estimated 7.3 million pet reptiles are owned by approximately 3% of all U.S. households according to G. Mitchell in a Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council statement. Because the most popular reptile species will not breed if closely confined, most reptiles are captured in the wild and imported. ( note: most of the pet iguanas sold in the U.S. have either been captured in the wild or have been bred in farming/ranching operations in Central America and as such are liable to infection with Salmonella.) The number of reptiles imported into the United States has increased dramatically since 1986 and primarily reflects importation of green iguanas (Iguana iguana) which numbered 127,806 in 1986 and 798,405 in 1993.

Keep the following points in mind when considering the problem:

  • A high proportion of reptiles are asymptomatic carriers of Salmonella i.e. they have the bacteria in their
  • intestinal tract but are not sick.
  • Fecal carriage rates can be more than 90%
  • Elimination of Salmonella in reptiles with antibiotics leads to increased resistance
  • Attempts to eliminate Salmonella in reptiles w/antibiotics has been unsuccessful
  • A wide variety of serotypes from reptiles are rarely associated w/other animals or sources
  • Reptiles can become infected through transovarial (through the egg) transmission
  • They can become infected through contact with other reptiles. They can become infected by eating feces, a typical hatchling behavior which helps to establish normal intestinal flora for hindgut fermentation

Who Should Avoid Contact with Reptiles?

The following categories of people should avoid all contact, direct or indirect, with any reptile as the risks of serious, symptomatic infection with Salmonella is greatly increased

  • Infants and children up to 5 years of age
  • Anyone with HIV/AIDS or other immunodefiency disorders
  • Anyone who has had transplant surgery and is on anti-rejection therapy
  • Anyone who is on any drug which suppresses/alters immune 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. If in doubt about any disease or disorder you or a household member may have with respect to its effect on immune status also discuss this with your physician.
    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/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 reptile 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/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.
  • When washing reptile enclosures/accessories avoid splashes to face
  • 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 hand washing 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, at swap meets or other locations where hand washing facilities may be absent.