With the growing popularity of exotic pets in the United States, the incidence of zoonotic diseases attributed to these pets should be expected to rise. Veterinarians play an important role in educating the public and should have an understanding of the epidemiology of these potentially devastating diseases. The purpose of this article is to introduce pet owners to one of the most common zoonotic diseases encountered in reptile species.
Salmonella spp. are Gram-negative facultative anaerobes that are ubiquitous in the environment. These bacteria have been isolated from all of the different classes of animals. There are over 2,400 different Salmonella serotypes, and they should all be considered pathogenic. Most animals appear to be asymptomatic reservoirs for this microbe. Salmonella sp. is primarily transmitted via the fecal-oral route or from contaminated fomites. Humans that contract salmonellosis from non-traditional species may experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, enteritis, or septicemia. The incubation of Salmonella in humans is approximately 6-48 hours. Because of the inherent zoonotic risks associated with non-traditional species (e.g., reptiles), ownership should be limited to cases that have adult supervision. Strict hygiene, including hand washing with soap, should be practiced to reduce the risk of exposure.
Individuals who are susceptible to Salmonella infections include the elderly, the very young, and those who are immunocompromised because of AIDS or immunosuppressive therapy. People with cirrhosis, diabetes, and sickle cell anemia are also particularly susceptible to severe Salmonella infection.
Salmonellosis in people usually manifests itself as diarrhea accompanied by abdominal cramps and fever. Salmonella can enter the bloodstream of people, become septicemic and cause meningitis, arthritis and other extraintestinal problems. Antibiotic treatment is usually limited to extrainestinal infection. Antibiotic given to people who have disease limited to the intestinal tract may prolong symptoms and can result in development of antibiotic resistant organisms.
Orlando Diaz-Figueroa, DVM, MS, Dipl. ABVP (Avian Specialty)