Tegus are large South American lizards that are sometimes kept as pets. As with other reptiles, Salmonella is a concern, as highlighted by a recent study in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health (Maciel et al. 2010). In that study, the authors tested feces of 30 captive-born tegus. From the first round of samples, they isolated various types of Salmonella from 87% of the animals. They collected a second fecal sample from the 4 tegus that were initially negative, and found Salmonella in feces of all of them. 

It’s not particularly surprising to find Salmonella in tegus, just like in other reptiles. The fact that it wasn’t too hard for the authors to find this important bacterium in all of the reptiles highlights the public health concerns regarding reptiles and Salmonella. Further, they showed (as has been shown with other reptiles like snakes) that Salmonella can be shed intermittently, so a negative culture doesn’t mean the animal is truly Salmonella-free.

Reptiles can make good pets, but they are accompanied by an increased degree of risk with regard to infectious diseases. They are not recommended for households with children less than five years of age, elderly persons, pregnant women or people with compromised immune systems. In low-risk households (i.e. households without people in these categories), the risk can be reduced (though not eliminated) by basic common sense practices, particularly close attention to handwashing after touching the animal or its environment, and preventing the animal from roaming around the house.

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