Reptiles and the risk of infectious disease
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) has warned parents that reptiles are not appropriate pets for children under the age of five. This comes after the identification of a case of infant botulism following exposure to a turtle or turtle feed combined with the fact that a significant proportion of cases of salmonella are associated with contact with reptiles.
Dr Paul McKeown, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, of HPSC said, "Recently, there has been one case of botulism, a small baby, associated with pet turtles. On top of that, in 2008, a year when we had 449 cases of salmonellosis, fifteen of these cases had recent contact with reptiles. Very worryingly, nine of these fifteen cases were in children under one year of age. This tells us that these diseases are appearing too commonly in households that have pet reptiles and too commonly in infants and babies."
Small children are not the only group at increased risk of illness from reptiles; pregnant women, elderly or frail adults or immunosuppressed people (e.g. people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and people with a CD4 count less than 200 should avoid all contact with reptiles.
"Given these risks", said Dr McKeown, "reptiles should not be kept as pets in a house where there are children under the age of five."
He went on to say, "For most people keeping reptiles does not pose a significant health risk, as long as proper hygiene steps are taken. These include proper handling of reptiles and disposal of waste and water, frequent handwashing following contact with reptiles and keeping your reptiles in their tank."
"Enjoy your pet reptiles but keep children under five away from them entirely and take the proper hygiene steps to make sure they don’t make any of your family ill," said Dr McKeown.
Further information on reptiles and the risk of infectious disease is available here.