Salmonella-contaminated frogs from a breeder in Madera County, CA have now made 241 people throughout the United States sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday. The CDC said Blue Lobster Farms had agreed in April to stop shipping African dwarf frogs, but resumed distribution in early June.
In its latest update on the widespread outbreak involving the pet frogs, the CDC warned that Blue Lobster Farms does not sell directly to the public, but said the water frogs may be found in pet stores, educational stores, toy stores, fairs, carnivals, from online retailers, and other venues.
“Handle all surfaces that have come in contact with water frogs as if they are contaminated with Salmonella bacteria, because there is a good possibility that they are,” the CDC report stated.
The multistate outbreak was first reported in 2009, after investigators looking into cases of Salmonella Typhimurium discovered the infections weren’t caused by something the patients ate, but by handling water frogs.
The CDC says the actual onset of the outbreak may have been as early as April 2008.
In its previous updates, the CDC did not name the frog breeder. This time it identified Blue Lobster Farms and said officials with the Madera County Department of Environmental Health had been working with the owner on interventions, testing and monitoring.
But “the effectiveness of these interventions is unknown,” the CDC said, because new cases of Salmonella infection related to the outbreak continue to be reported.
Several lab tests have confirmed the outbreak strain — in water from a frog aquarium in the New York household of a sick infant and on a frog in Michigan, among many others. Environmental samples taken at Blue Lobster Farms also yielded isolates matching the outbreak strain, according to Wednesday’s CDC report.
In May 2011, the California Department of Public Health sent a letter to the direct customers of the breeder recommending they discontinue distribution and sale of the frogs and decontaminate their tanks or aquariums. At that time the implicated breeder was said to have voluntarily suspended distribution a month earlier. The outbreak toll stood at 224 illnesses.
As of July 18, the CDC said, 42 states have reported Salmonella cases linked to the buggy frogs. Of the 241 sickened since April 1, 2009, 69 percent have been children under 10. Nearly one-third of the case patients have been hospitalized.
Washington state has reported 24 Salmonella infections, followed by California with 21 cases linked to the frogs. There have been 19 sickened in Utah; 17 in Pennsylvania; 12 in Colorado; 11 in Virginia,; 10 in Arizona and Illinois; 8 in New York; 7 in Massachusetts and Ohio; 6 in Michigan; 5 in Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon and Texas; 4 in Georgia, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Nevada, Tennessee and Wisconsin; 3 in Connecticut, Kansas, Louisiana and South Dakota; and 2 in Alabama, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Oklahoma; and one in Florida, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.
The CDC advises people who keep these water frogs as pets to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling anything, including the water, that the frogs had contact with, and to not use kitchen sinks to empty the aquarium. If bathtubs are used for cleaning the frog’s habitat, they should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected with bleach.
Water frogs are not an appropriate pet for children under 5 years old, and if possible, should not be present in homes with young children, the CDC advises.
Pet stores and others who sell water frogs, the CDC said, should provide health-related warnings about the risk of Salmonella infection and provide instructions for proper handling.