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.
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:
Food can become contaminated when it is:
Objects can become contaminated by contact with:
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.
This information is also available in leaflet form.
Last reviewed: 16 May 2011