Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Healthy Pets

Font Size

Pet Owners Beware: Reptiles Can Cause Salmonella Infections

WebMD Pet Health News

Nov. 10, 1999 (Atlanta) -- A 3-week-old boy is admitted to a hospital emergency department in Arizona with fever, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea. A 6-year-old boy develops bloody diarrhea, cramps, vomiting, and fever in Kansas; his 3-year-old brother also falls ill. In Wisconsin, a 5-month-old boy suddenly dies at home. These children are all victims of salmonella infections. The cause? Not contaminated food, but household pets. Reptiles -- such as iguanas, snakes, turtles, and lizards -- to be specific.

A CDC report released this week underscores the point that reptile-related salmonella infections continue to pose a substantial threat to human health. An estimated 3% of U.S. households keep a pet reptile. Between 1996 and 1998, the CDC received reports involving salmonella infections in people who had direct or indirect contact with reptiles from the health departments of about 16 states. The agency's statistics show that approximately 93,000 cases of salmonella infection a year are caused by pet reptile or amphibian contact -- that's 7% of all salmonella infection cases. A disproportionately large number of infections occur in children under five. Despite the dangers, few states have laws on the books to protect the public, and many pet owners remain unaware of the health risks.

"It is not a new topic: we have known for several years now that reptiles -- not just iguanas -- carry salmonella, and they shed it," study author and veterinarian Stephanie Wong tells WebMD.

"Salmonella, we believe, is a natural bacteria found in the gut of reptiles. You can test their feces and it'll be positive for salmonella one week and the next week it won't, and because of this 'intermittent shedding' we can't say that a reptile is salmonella-free." It is the reptile's natural state, not an illness, Wong says, and it isn't advisable to treat the salmonella infection. Additionally, treating the infection could lead to an antibiotic-resistant strain.

"What is new is the concern over children less than 5 years old. Our concern is that they seem to contract salmonellosis [infection with the bacteria salmonella] and they tend to get the more severe forms, including sepsis and meningitis. [In] many of these cases, the infants in fact were never in direct contact with the reptile but instead had indirect contact, such as a parent touching the iguana and then holding the child. Because of that concern, we included a new recommendation, which is that households with children less than 5 not have reptiles in the home." Wong is with Foodborne and Diarrheal Diseases branch of the CDC.

Today on WebMD

Puppy digging hole
Are you putting your pet at risk?
Cat looking at fish
Things we can learn from our pets.
dog and kitten
27 ways pets help your health.
Get the facts about prevention.
Woman holding puppy
Sad dog and guacamole
Siamese cat eating from bowl
cat on couch
Cat People vs Dog People Slideshow
Kitten playing
Orange cat nuzzling woman
German shephard reading a book