I write a lot about reptiles, and while it’s usually in the context of their biohazardous nature, I actually like them. I’ve owned some before and it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that we’ll get more in the future (I might be safe with that statement since Heather doesn’t read this blog. However, her co-workers that do will likely rat me out).
Reptiles can be good pets in some situations. The key is understanding and accepting the risk. That involves understanding the risks associated with reptiles, understanding the types of households where the risk is high, and knowing what to do to reduce the risk.
Denial isn’t an effective infection control measure.
An interview in Oregon Live with the founder of International Reptile Rescue highlights this issue.
"And while reptiles have been associated with spreading salmonella (the CDC reports about 70,000 such cases a year) people are more likely to contract it from a dog, Hart says"
- Uh…no. Reptiles are clearly higher risk when it comes to Salmonella. Reptile contact has been clearly and repeatedly shown to be a risk factor for human salmonellosis. Dogs and cats (and various other animals) are potential sources of salmonellosis, but while many more people have contact with dogs and cats, reptile contact is much more likely to result in Salmonella transmission. It only makes sense. Reptiles are at very high risk for shedding the bacterium. Dogs and cats rarely do (especially when they’re not fed raw meat).
"She’s never seen a case in the 30-plus years she’s been working with reptiles."
- Ok. So, since I’ve never actually seen influenza virus, I’ll never get the flu?
- I know a lot of infectious disease physicians who have had a very different experience. In fact, it’s rare for me to talk to an infectious diseases physician without him/her providing details of various reptile-associated salmonellosis cases.
Talking about the risk of Salmonella shouldn’t be taken as insulting or a threat to reptile enthusiasts. People should accept that the risk is present and try to minimize it. The article actually has some useful information along those line. "Just use common sense – wash hands thoroughly after handling the animal or its cage. A good rule of thumb is to keep hand sanitizer nearby. While children under age 5 should avoid any contact with reptiles, Hart doesn’t advise snakes for children under age 7 or 8 for fear they could unwittingly harm the creature."
Reducing the risk is common sense. Keep reptiles out of high risk environments and use basic hygiene and infection control practices.
However, any semblance of common sense goes out the door when a rescue like this offers programs where you can pay them to bring reptiles to daycares, pre-schools and grade schools. So much for young kids avoiding contact with reptiles.
Reptiles aren’t bad, they’re just bad in certain situations. Common sense needs to be more common.