March 18, 2013
The Food and Drug Administration is giving consumers, especially reptile owners, tips on how to prevent Salmonella infection from handling feeder rodents and reptiles. Feeder rodents are mice and rats—both frozen and live—used to feed some reptiles, such as certain snakes and lizards, as well as some amphibians. Feeder rodents, reptiles, and amphibians can be sources of Salmonella infection for people.
Salmonellosis is an infection with bacteria called Salmonella. People get salmonellosis by ingesting Salmonella germs. Persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4-7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, the illness can be serious, even fatal, in some people. Children under 5 years of age, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk for salmonellosis and may develop more severe illness.
Rodents and reptiles can naturally carry Salmonella in their intestines but show no signs of illness. The animals shed the bacteria in their feces and droppings. These, in turn, contaminate the environment with Salmonella, including the outside of the animals’ bodies and their habitats. Freezing does not kill Salmonella, so both frozen and live feeder rodents can be contaminated with these germs. Over 500 human cases of salmonellosis in three countries, including the U.S., were linked to frozen rodent exposure between 2008 and 2010.
People may become infected with Salmonella after handling feeder rodents, reptiles, or amphibians, surfaces that have been in contact with these animals, or the environment in which the animal lives.
Contaminated surfaces may include countertops, microwave ovens, refrigerators and freezers, kitchen utensils, and glasses and bowls used to store, thaw, and prepare frozen feeder rodents. Reptile and rodent habitats, including their cages or enclosures, bedding, basking rocks, food and water dishes, and other objects in their cages or enclosures may also be contaminated with Salmonella. Germs picked up from touching the animal or habitat can be spread to other people or surfaces. Therefore, people should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching these animals, their food, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Running water and soap are best, but hand sanitizers may be used if running water and soap are not available.