By Erika N. Chen-Walsh
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) collects data nationally on salmonella infections (salmonellosis). Salmonella infections are zoonotic and can be transferred between humans and nonhuman animals. Many infections are due to ingestion of contaminated food.
Salmonellosis comes from multiple sources, including infected food, lack of kitchen hygiene, excretions from either sick or infected but apparently clinically healthy people and animals , polluted surface water and standing water, improperly thawed poultry, and from direct contact with animals, including, but rarely, reptiles. Salmonella bacteria can survive for some time without a host and are frequently found in polluted water.
The CDC web site contains wildly conflicting information on salmonella infection. Although the CDC claims that there are approximately 40,000 reported cases of salmonella infection per year in the United States, it also claims that “it is estimated” that 70,000 people get salmonella infection from reptiles each year. Obviously, both statements cannot be true.
The most recent published data from the CDC for salmonella are from 2009. According to these data, in 2009, there were 48,699 cases of laboratory confirmed salmonellosis. Of these, 40,828 (84%) cases came from human sources and 7,871 (16%) cases from non-human sources. The breakdown of the non-human sources are perhaps the most telling:
- Chicken: 4,464
- Turkey: 914
- Porcine: 339
- Bovine: 336
- Other Birds / Wild Animals: 136
- Equine: 74
- Reptile: 19
- Other Domestic Animals: 6
- All Other Sources: 1,583
Only 0.2% of non-human sources of salmonellosis came from reptiles. Of all salmonella infections in 2009 (both human and non-human sources), 0.03% came from reptiles.
Chickens, turkeys, pigs, cows and horses all much greater causes of non-human source salmonella than reptiles. According to the 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 4.6 million American households own reptiles and there are 13 million reptiles living as pets in this country.
APPA’s 2009 survey indicated that there were approximately 11,000,000 reptiles living as pets in the U.S. Nineteen cases of salmonellosis. Eleven million reptiles. That means that less than one thousandth of one percent of the pet reptiles in this country were a source of laboratory confirmed salmonellosis in 2009.
Herpetoculturists need to understand this data. Although dry, zoonosis is a favorite topic of the animal rights industry and those seeking to restrict the ownership of reptiles and amphibians. The risk of salmonella infection from reptiles is miniscule as compared to multiple other species of animals and can be nearly completely eliminated through proper hygiene.