The CDC has announced that 44 people have been infected with  Salmonella Uganda from bearded dragons. Foods, surfaces and utensils can become cross contaminated if proper hygiene practices are not followed.

On Nov. 19, 2021, the Oregon Health Authority collected samples from a bearded dragon in a sick person’s home for testing. Whole genome sequencing showed that the Salmonella on the animal was closely related to the Salmonella that infected the sick people. This means that people likely got sick from touching bearded dragons, according to the CDC.

Illnesses have been reported from 25 states. The illnesses spanned the past year, with illness onset dates ranging from Dec. 24, 2020, to Dec. 2, 2021. Additional patients are expected to be identified because of the time lag between when a person becomes ill and when confirmed test results are sent to the CDC. The process can take more than a month.

Bearded dragons can carry Salmonella in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean. Salmonella can then easily spread to their bodies and anything in the area where they live and roam.

Pet owners can get sick from touching their bearded dragon or anything in its environment and then touching their mouth and swallowing Salmonella.

Quick facts:

  • Sick people range in age from younger than 1 to 84 years old, with a median age of 27. 
  • 8 ill people were children younger than the age of 5.
  • Of 37 people with information available, 15 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Tips from the CDC on how to stay healthy around your pet bearded dragon:

  • Wash your hands
    • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding your bearded dragon and after touching or cleaning the area where it lives and roams.
    • Adults should make sure young children are washing their hands.
  • Play safely
    • Don’t kiss or snuggle your bearded dragon, and don’t eat or drink around it. This can spread Salmonella to your mouth and make you sick.
    • Keep your bearded dragon out of your kitchen and other areas where you eat, store or prepare food.
  • Keep things clean
    • Clean your bearded dragon supplies outside the house, if possible. These supplies may include feeders, toys and food and water containers.
    • If you clean the supplies indoors, don’t clean them in the kitchen or other areas where you eat or prepare food. Use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right after.

If you are thinking of getting a pet bearded dragon:

  • Pick the right pet for your family
    • Bearded dragons and other reptiles are not recommended for children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. These people are more likely to get a serious illness from bacteria that reptiles can carry.

About Salmonella infections
Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. Infants, children, seniors, and people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness because their immune systems are fragile, according to the CDC.

Anyone who has handled their pet and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention. Sick people should tell their doctors about the possible exposure to Salmonella bacteria because special tests are necessary to diagnose salmonellosis. Salmonella infection symptoms can mimic other illnesses, frequently leading to misdiagnosis.

Symptoms of Salmonella infection can include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. Otherwise, healthy adults are usually sick for four to seven days. In some cases, however, diarrhea may be so severe that patients require hospitalization.

Older adults, children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer patients, are more likely to develop a severe illness and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.

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