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Home Topics Infectious Diseases Infections A-Z Salmonella General information ›  Reducing the risks of salmonella infection from reptiles

Reducing the risks of salmonella infection from reptiles

Salmonella are bacteria found in the gut of many animals, including reptiles. The bacteria can spread from the animals to cause illness in people. Though salmonella infection in people usually causes a mild illness with fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, more severe illness can occur. Babies and young children are more likely to develop serious illness, which can be fatal.

People can also acquire salmonella infection from other sources including: eating and handling raw or undercooked meat, products containing raw egg or unwashed fruit and vegetables; drinking unpasteurised milk or milk products; or contact with infected animals, the droppings of infected animals, or contaminated soil.

How is salmonella passed from reptiles to people?

Most reptiles carry salmonella in their gut without showing any signs of infection and shed the bacteria in their droppings. These droppings can quickly spread over the reptile's skin, and any surface or object that the reptile comes into contact with can be contaminated with salmonella, including cages, toys, clothes, furniture and household surfaces.

All reptiles should be presumed to carry salmonella in their gut, even if they do not show any signs of infection.

Salmonella can pass from reptiles to people when people put anything in their mouth that has come into contact with their reptile - particularly their fingers.

Some reptile foods such as frozen or defrosted mice, rats and chicks, can also contain salmonella and be a potential source of infection for both the reptile and its owners.

Hands can become contaminated when someone handles:

  • A reptile
  • Reptile cages or equipment
  • Raw reptile feed, including frozen or defrosted mice, rats and chicks

Food can become contaminated when it is:

  • Handled after someone has touched a reptile and not washed their hands
  • Put on surfaces that the reptiles have been in contact with
  • Shared with a reptile

Objects can become contaminated by contact with:

  • The reptile or its droppings
  • Contaminated hands or food

Who is most at risk of salmonella infection from reptiles?

Babies, children under five, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weaker immune systems are particularly at risk from infection.

Children are particularly at risk because they like to handle and stroke pet reptiles. As a result, their hands and fingers can become contaminated. Babies and small children may be infected by parents and other family members who have handled a reptile and then not washed their hands before feeding or touching the child.

They may also become infected from reptile droppings if the reptile is free to roam the home.

Good care of your reptile will reduce the risks of salmonella infection.  It is not possible to eliminate salmonella from reptiles.  Therefore antibiotic treatment of reptiles suspected to be carrying salmonella is not recommended.  Below are some important guidelines on how to reduce the risk of catching salmonella from your reptile.

How can I reduce the risk of catching salmonella infection from my reptile?

  • Always supervise children to ensure that they do not put your reptile, (or objects that the reptile has been in contact with) near their mouths, and wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after
  • Keep your reptile out of rooms where food is prepared and eaten, and limit the parts of the house where your reptile is allowed to roam freely
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling your reptile, their cage or any other equipment such as soaking pools
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after feeding your reptile, and after handling raw (frozen or defrosted) mice, rats or chicks.  Ensure that all surfaces that have come into contact with defrosting food are cleaned thoroughly afterwards
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while handling your reptile
  • Do not kiss your reptile
  • Do not use kitchen sinks to bathe your reptile or to wash their cage or equipment. If you use a bathroom sink or bathtub, it must be cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant afterwards
  • Dispose of waste water and droppings from your reptile down the toilet instead of a sink or bathtub

This information is also available in leaflet form.

Last reviewed: 16 May 2011