The CDC has updated investigation details into a Salmonella Vitkin and IIIb outbreak connected to bearded dragons. As of Jan. 20, 2023, there have been 32 people infected, 12 with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Vitkin and 20 people with the outbreak strain of Salmonella IIIb.

Epidemiologic and laboratory data show that contact with pet bearded dragons is making people sick in both outbreaks.

Illnesses have been reported from 20 states. Of the 24 illnesses with information available, 10 have required hospitalizations. Sick people range in age from less than 1 to 75 years. Eleven of the patients are younger than 1 year old and 15 are children under 5. No deaths have been reported. 

Illnesses have been reported from 20 states. Click to view CDC map.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 24, 2021, to Nov. 2, 2022. Of the 25 people interviewed, 16 reported contact with a pet bearded dragon before getting sick.

The CDC is working with the bearded dragon industry and the pet industry to reduce Salmonella in bearded dragons. 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 or face.

The true number of sick people in these outbreaks is likely much higher than the number reported, and these outbreaks may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella.

Quick facts:

Salmonella Vitkin outbreak

  • Among the eight people who reported contact with bearded dragons, four reported purchasing their bearded dragons from different pet stores. Investigators are working to determine if there is a common supplier of bearded dragons.

Salmonella IIIb outbreak

  • Utah and Colorado public health officials identified the outbreak strain from samples collected from a sick person’s bearded dragon and its habitat.
  • Among the 8 people who reported contact with bearded dragons, all reported purchasing or having contact with bearded dragons from different pet stores. Investigators are working to determine if there is a common supplier of bearded dragons.

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

  • Wash your hands
    • Always wash your 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. Some people get infected without getting sick or showing any symptoms. However, they may still spread the infections to others.

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 severe illnesses and serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)