Almost 850 people have fallen ill with Salmonella infections in recent years as part of an outbreak linked to feeder rodents.

The outbreak was first investigated in 2015 and most of those sick lived in households with one or more pet reptiles.

The latest warning states feeder mice are distributed by Monkfield Nutrition Limited across all four nations in the United Kingdom. They are typically fed to reptiles – particularly snakes and lizards.

Feeder rodents were imported from Lithuania and are sold in a number of retailers. They are considered as animal by-products and not pet food so are not required to be free from Salmonella or other human pathogens.

Based on a 2016 European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) assessment, the Salmonella Enteritidis outbreak had been ongoing since 2011 but was detected in 2015. From January 2012 to November 2016, there were 275 human cases in the UK and 40 percent of them were younger than 10 years of age.

Preventing Salmonella spread
Dr. Lesley Larkin, surveillance lead, gastrointestinal pathogens unit at Public Health England, said Salmonella can spread from carrier animals to cause illness in people.

“Epidemiological investigations and whole genome sequencing have again confirmed the link between a Salmonella outbreak in people who have become unwell and feeder rodents used to feed reptiles and some other animals distributed in the UK by this specific importer,” she said.

“Just as for handling raw human food, there is an inherent risk of Salmonella when handling raw or frozen and defrosted pet food such as mice, rats or chicks, because freezing does not kill Salmonella. In addition, most reptiles carry Salmonella in their intestines for months or even years after exposure to contaminated food, and this can spread to their owners and other household members.

“Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling the frozen food and feeding your reptile, after handling your reptile, cleaning their vivarium or any other equipment such as soaking pools. Children should be supervised to ensure they wash their hands properly.”

PHE, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Animal and Plant Health Agency and FSA have also updated guidance on reducing the risks of Salmonella infection from reptiles.

FSA involvement
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) urged reptile owners who purchase feeder rodents for their pets to take extra precautions to avoid becoming ill with salmonellosis.

The FSA is working with public health and animal health agencies, local authorities and the company. Monkfield Nutrition has contacted its customers to inform them of the problem.

Retailers must by law provide customers buying feeder rodents from Monkfield Nutrition with an information leaflet about the risks of Salmonella infection and advice on always washing their hands as good hygiene for handling animal food in the home.

Tina Potter, head of incidents at the FSA, said the leaflet is aimed at ensuring pet handlers understand the potential risks of infections and have access to information to reduce them.

“We are advising pet handlers that they should follow good hygiene when handling feeder rodents and pet reptiles to avoid the risk of becoming ill with Salmonella. We will continue to monitor this situation carefully, and act proportionately to ensure both public and animal health,” she said.

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