Reptiles and Salmonella - is there a solution?
October 10, 2011 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I used to keep reptiles, and though I don't currently, I'd like to again. The problem is that we've got a new baby in the house, and I'm wigged out about the Salmonella threat.

From first link below:

Studies have shown that 85% of all turtles, 77% of lizards, and 92% of snakes carry one of the 500 serotypes of Salmonella.

...and then...

Unfortunately, Salmonella bacteria cannot be eliminated from the intestinal tract of reptiles. Administration of antibiotics to eliminate these bacteria has been unsuccessful and may result in emergence of Salmonella bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Attempt to raise or identify reptiles that do not carry Salmonella bacteria have also been unsuccessful; therefore, bacterial culture of stool samples in an attempt to identify reptiles that are not carrying Salmonella bacteria is not recommended.

Is that the final word? Is there simply no solution? How do others deal with this, are you just hyper-careful in the way the CDC page recommends?

Relevant links:
posted by Robson to Pets & Animals (2 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've kept reptiles (various geckos, bearded dragons, tawny dragons and a carpet python) on and off for years and I have never had a problems. I did however practice basic hygiene procedures.

Washed my hands well before and after handling with soap and water. I didn't like to use hand sanitizers as I worried about them being absorbed through the reptiles skin.

Kept the cages clean (ie picked up poops as soon as they happened and threw them out. Used proper cleaning solution for reptiles or dilute bleach to clean all tank and equipment and stripped and cleaned tanks regularly. I would also air out the tanks in the sun from time to time. I also kept the UV bulbs regularly changed and would not put glass between them and the tank as besides being needed by reptiles, my theory was that UV would help with keeping germs etc down.

These are all things you'd have to do anyway to keep the reptiles healthy.

I don't have a baby or kids (but if I did wouldn't hesitate to have them in a house with reptiles), but my 70 yo, diabetic mother lives with my brother who has over 20 assorted reptiles in his house and follows similar cleaning regimes and she's never gotten sick. He also has 2 kids who have never caught anything from the reptiles either.

I'd suggest making sure you keep your animals as healthy as possible so they can fight off the bacteria themselves, keep the cages clean and keep your baby away from the cages. Think of it this way a lot of bacteria like Salmonella and E.Coli are carried on chicken and other meats, you follow basic hygiene rules in the kitchen and you take your baby in their and they are fine.

Wash your hands well with antibacterial soap and use a nail brush after handling the reptiles and keep the tanks and equipment out of reach of the baby. Even wipe down around the cage with wipes if you are super worried.

Disclaimer, just in case I am not a doctor or a reptile specialist, this is just what I have done or would do.
posted by wwax at 11:44 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Salmonella inside the digestive tract is not an issue. You, as a human being, almost certainly have salmonella inside your digestive tract as well. It's normal.

Seconding a good portion of what wwax said about keeping the cage clean, washing hands carefully, etc. Keeping the water dish clean is essential as well, as many species of reptile like to defecate in their water dish. I don't currently have any reptiles, but I kept geckos for many years. I would replace the water daily, and had three water dishes that would go through a cycle: One in use and two washed and in a hot, dry room. Bacteria doesn't like dry surfaces, particularly those exposed to UV rays.

Additionally, I'd like to note that consuming food with salmonella in it isn't likely to cause problems. Ever had eggs sunny-side up? Meat that was still juicy? Probably has some salmonella in it. Our digestive systems are equipped to deal with that - it's really high concentrations (outright rotten eggs, for example) that cause problems. Either that or people with poor immune systems or gastrointestinal issues. That's not to say there's no need to keep the cage clean, of course. Babies are more at risk than adults. But really, as long as you're not letting the critter defecate on the kitchen counter and then preparing food there, the likelihood of a healthy baby developing an infection is pretty much nonexistant (in fact, I know someone whose infant used to regularly lick their pet carpet python; not advisable to allow this of course, but just making a point).

In short: maybe stick with desert herps for a few years, keep the cage clean, wash your hands before preparing food, and use a dry substrate.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:33 AM on June 18, 2012

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