This is one of these “I’m not sure it’s really news” stories, but I guess is should be because it’s still a problem. We know there is a clear link between reptiles and Salmonella in people.  Reptiles are common carriers of this bacterium, and human infections from handling reptiles or having contact with their environment are far from rare.

Similarly, outbreaks of salmonellosis in people linked to feeder rodents (rodents bred to be fed to reptiles) also aren’t uncommon.  Such outbreaks can be even more wide reaching because of large scale rodent production and subsequent widespread distribution of a lot of infected rodents.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recently released a public health notice about an ongoing outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to snakes and feeder rodents that has affected people in multiple provinces over the last two years.

Details are pretty limited, but as of December 10, 2019, there had been 92 confirmed cases of infection with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium in 6 provinces, spanning the country from east to west (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia). The largest number of cases was in Quebec (52) followed by Ontario (16). As with other outbreaks, this probably represents a minority of the true number of infections.  Cases occurred between April 2017 and October 2019 (see graph of the “epidemiological curve” from the public health notice below).

Six people were hospitalized but no one has died.

In general, it is recommended that high risk people (children less than 5 years of age, people  over 65 years of age, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems) not have contact with reptiles. That includes living with them, since many cases have occurred in individuals who lived in the same house as a reptile but didn’t handle the animal directly, presumably because the household environment was contaminated. People in those high-risk groups should also avoid contact with feeder rodents. Feeder rodents pose more risk than pet rodents, because a rodent that’s been living in a household is less likely to be infectious than one that was just brought in (alive or frozen) as food for a reptile. Regardless, some common sense hygiene, particularly handwashing, goes a long way.

More information about Salmonella and reptiles is available on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.