Big problems from little lizards: reptiles caused an outbreak of a deadly disease (6 photos)

Category: Animals, PEGI 0+
17 June 2024

Our pets can easily carry many viruses, bacteria and infections that we are not even aware of. Another such case was the massive incidence of deadly salmonella, which has already affected several states in the United States.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued an urgent warning about a multi-state outbreak of potentially fatal salmonella poisoning associated with pet lizards, particularly bearded dragons. Among the 15 reported cases so far, nine patients are children under the age of five, and four people have been hospitalized. Fortunately, no deaths have been reported so far.

Bearded dragons, which are popular pets, carry salmonella bacteria in their droppings. This bacterium, in turn, can easily contaminate the environment. People who touch lizards or their cells and then touch their mouth or food risk becoming infected with the bacteria, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain in its mildest forms. The CDC recommends that young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems avoid contact with these reptiles.

To prevent infection, you should also regularly wash your hands after working or playing with lizards, ensure that children under five do not touch them, and keep lizards in special enclosures so that they cannot roam freely around the house.

Bearded dragons, known for their friendly and funny behavior, are often featured in videos on social media. These lizards are usually bred in captivity and are considered the most popular pet lizards in the United States.

The popularity of exotic animals such as bearded dragons is partly due to their active presence on social media. Platforms like TikTok showcase these reptiles in a variety of adorable scenarios, increasing their appeal to lovers of unusual animals. This trend reflects the overall increase in non-traditional pet ownership, which is growing steadily every year in the United States.

Additionally, the evolution of the pet reptile trade, as noted by Dr. José Valdez, an ecology and biodiversity expert, indicates significant changes in global wildlife trade patterns. It is this emphasis on captive breeding rather than wild capture that has important implications for biodiversity conservation and the sustainability of the pet industry.

Dr. Valdez noted that “trends in the pet reptile trade have changed dramatically in recent decades, with increased domestic demand, decreased supply from abroad, and an overall decreased dependence on imports and wild reptiles.”

Salmonella bacteria live in the digestive tract of bearded dragons and can spread quite quickly and efficiently through their feces. According to the CDC, most people infected with salmonella experience diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps within 6 hours to 6 days after exposure to the bacteria. The illness usually lasts from 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment, but there have been cases of death when the condition worsens.

This is not the first salmonella outbreak linked to bearded dragons. Since 2007, there have been four outbreaks investigated by the CDC, including an outbreak from March 2021 to September 2022 with 12 cases reported in the United States and two in Canada. Another outbreak in October 2022 affected 32 people and resulted in 10 hospitalizations.

The CDC estimates that salmonella bacteria cause about 1.35 million infections, more than 26,000 hospitalizations and 420 deaths each year. Researchers have identified about 2,500 types of salmonella bacteria, but fewer than 100 types cause most illnesses. In addition to concerns from pets, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has investigated more than 70 food-related salmonella outbreaks since 2013.

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