CDC Traces Salmonella Outbreak To Aquatic Pet Frogs

Brett Smith for – Your Universe Online

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an outbreak of Salmonella infections from 2008 to 2011 was caused by small, aquatic pet frogs.

“This was the first Salmonella outbreak associated with aquatic frogs, and in this case the frogs are often marketed as good pets for kids,” lead author Shauna Mettee Zarecki, a public health advisor“¯with the CDC in Atlanta, told Reuters.

The researchers found that the bacterial outbreak affected 376 people in 44 US states and 29 percent of those affected sought treatment. Children were the most heavily affected by the outbreak, leading CDC officials to reinforce safety precautions surrounding the handling of aquatic pets.

“The majority of people didn’t realize there were any risks from these amphibians or other amphibians, like turtles and snakes,” Zarecki said.

“Amphibians and reptiles should never be kept in homes with children less than 5 years old or with people who have immune deficiencies,” she said, adding that humans can become infected after touching the animals or cleaning their areas.

In the new report, federal, state and local health officials investigated a rash of Salmonella infections, mostly among children, in 2008. By early 2009, the outbreak had subsided before the researchers could find the source. The investigation was reignited when five more children were infected in Utah later that year.

The research team interviewed people who were infected with the particular strain of Salmonella from January 2008 through December 2011, asking them what animals and food they were exposed to just before getting sick.

An analysis of the data found that 67 percent of those affected were exposed to a specific kind of frog during the week before their illness — an African dwarf frog.

“Everything really linked these frogs with the illnesses,” Zarecki said.

The officials were able to trace the frogs back to a breeding facility in Madera County, California. An inspection of the facilities turned up the same strain of the bacteria in the facility’s equipment and drains. The facility´s owner shut down operations, enacted a full-scale cleaning program, and re-opened by June 2011.

However, since the frogs can live up to 20 years, CDC officials warn that many contaminated frogs may still be out there.

“Although [African dwarf frogs] are often purchased from pet stores, they are increasingly found at fairs, festivals, and novelty, education, and toy stores and are marketed as good pets for young children or school classrooms,” the researchers noted in their report.

Nicholas Saint-Erne, a veterinarian for PetSmart, Inc., responded to the report by emphasizing safety measures that should be taken when handling certain pets.

“The important consideration with any aquatic pet is to provide adequate filtration to keep the water clean and perform regular partial water changes,” he told Reuters Health in a statement.

Despite the efforts to raise awareness, contracting Salmonella from aquatic pets continues to be a problem for the public. Previous studies have shown that reptiles and amphibians are responsible for about 74,000 Salmonella infections annually in the US.