A zoonotic disease is a disease that can be passed from animals to humans. These diseases can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi. Humans can contract zoonotic or vector-borne diseases through contact with an animal, its bodily fluids, its infected waste or its living environment; by contact with water or soil contaminated by infected animal waste; by eating meat from infected animals or eating food such as fruits and vegetables that have been contaminated by infected animal waste; or through vectors—such from infected animals to humans via mosquitoes, fleas or ticks. Following are some zoonoses related to reptiles and amphibians:
Reptiles and amphibians can carry species of bacteria of the genus Mycobacterium, which can pose a serious risk to immunocompromised individuals. M. marinum (amphibians) seem to have the most significant zoonotic risk to humans. Infection can cause a localized inflammation (granuloma) or lymphangitis, leading possibly to complications such as persistent ulceration, draining sinuses, septic arthritis and bone infection. M. chelonae and M. fortuitum (reptiles) have been associated with bone and joint infections, lung disease, and soft tissue lesions.
To reduce infection risks, you should
- Wear gloves when cleaning reptile and amphibian habitats and wash your hands after handling these animals.
- It may be best for immunocompromised individuals to avoid contact with these types of animals.
An estimated 70,000 people in the United States get salmonellosis from contact with reptiles or amphibians each year. Salmonellosis is a bacterial disease. Typical symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain that starts 1 to 3 days after infection. These symptoms usually go away after 1 week. In some cases, medical attention is required because the diarrhea is severe or the infection has affected other organs. Usually, people get salmonellosis by eating contaminated food, such as chicken or eggs. However, reptiles—including turtles, lizards, and snakes—can carry Salmonella and pass it in their feces.
To reduce infection risks, you should:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water directly after handling, feeding or caring for your reptile or amphibian and after cleaning up its waste or habitat. Adults should supervise hand washing for young children. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer until you are able to wash your hands.
- Keep your reptile or amphibian in a species-appropriate habitat. Clean the habitat throughly and regularly while wearing gloves.
- Regular veterinary care is important for the health of every animal. Your veterinarian can recommend a health care protocol to keep your reptile or amphibian safe from infectious diseases.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water directly after handling, feeding or caring for your reptile or amphibian and after cleaning up its waste or habitat.
- Infants and children under 5 as well as the elderly and medically fragile are at particular risk from zoonoses carried by reptiles and amphibians. These animals are not recommended to be kept in homes with the immunocompromised.