I’ve been slow getting around to this topic, which has been covered elsewhere (on Barfblog), but it’s an interesting report and one that’s still worth discussing. The report from Ireland involves diagnosis of botulism in a baby that was associated with a pet turtle and/or the turtle’s feed.
Botulism is a very serious disease caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Typically, botulism occurs when a person (or animal) eats food that was contaminated with the bacterium and then was stored improperly, allowing the bacterium to grow and produce its potent neurotoxins. The other form of botulism, one that is largely restricted to infants, occurs when the botulism bacterium itself is swallowed and starts to produce its toxins while it’s in the intestinal tract. It rarely occurs in older individuals because their natural intestinal bacterial population helps suppress overgrowth of the C. botulinum.
Not much information is available about the case in Ireland. It involved quite a rare strain of C. botulinum, Type E, and there’s no information provided about how the link to the turtle was made. I assume it was toxicoinfectious botulism, whereby the infant ingested the bacterium (as opposed to eating something already containing the toxin) but the reports aren’t clear. Fortunately, the child is recovering, since botulism can be fatal.
Botulism isn’t high on my list of potential infectious diseases you can get from reptiles, but it can happen – and it has the potential to be very, very bad. Salmonella is the main focus of reptile-associated diseases, but this report should be taken as a reminder that there are other diseases of concern as well, and that reptiles are inappropriate pets for households with children under five years of age.