Public Health Experts Warn of Health Risks Posed by Reptiles

Public health experts in NHS Forth Valley are asking people who care for ‘bearded dragons’ and other reptiles to be aware of a risk of salmonella. Over the past eight months there have been at least four cases of salmonella infection in Forth Valley associated with the ‘dragons’ which have become increasingly popular as pets.

Salmonella causes diarrhoea and vomiting which can last in some instances for several months.

NHS Forth Valley Consultant in Public Health Medicine, Dr Henry Prempeh said: “Whilst salmonella is not usually life threatening in healthy individuals, immuno-compromised people, the very young and the very old can often have complications associated with this infection. I would appeal to people who look after ‘bearded dragons’ to take strict hygiene precautions.”

Most reptiles carry salmonella in their gut without showing any signs of infection. The bacteria are shed in droppings which can quickly spread over the reptile’s skin. Any surface or object that the reptile comes into contact with can be contaminated with salmonella, such as cages, toys, clothes, furniture and household surfaces. Children are particularly at risk because they like to stroke and handle pet reptiles.

Any family who have a ‘bearded dragon’ and become ill with symptoms such as fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, should consult their doctor and inform them that they keep a reptile.

To reduce the risk of catching salmonella from a ‘bearded dragon’ several measures are recommended:

•    Always supervise children to make sure that they do not put the reptile, or objects it has been in   contact with, near their mouths.
•    Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling the reptile, its cage or any other equipment such as soaking pools. Also wash hands after feeding.
•    Keep a reptile out of rooms where food is prepared and eaten, and limit parts of the house where the reptile is allowed to roam freely.
•    Dispose of waste water and droppings from a reptile down the toilet instead of a sink or bathtub.
•    Don’t kiss reptiles