“I have students who come to class with their bearded dragon on their shoulders, which is probably not the most hygienic thing,” said Brian Todd, an environmental advocate at the University of California at Davis, specializing in reptiles and amphibians. not involved in the study. “After handling one, you should wash your hands, especially before preparing food or picking up your child. »

Bearded dragons are not the only source of reptilian-borne disease outbreaks. Last year, more than two dozen people in 11 states were infected with salmonella linked to small turtles. That outbreak resulted in the hospitalization of nine people and prompted the CDC to warn against allowing children under the age of 5 to have turtles as pets.

(The sale of turtles less than four inches has been banned since 1975.)

The study published this week in the journal Emerging infectious diseases used whole-genome genetic sequencing to determine the origin of salmonella infections that sickened two infants in Ontario, Canada. Researchers determined that these illnesses were caused by salmonella vitkin, a rare strain that had not been detected in Canada or the United States until 2021.

Dr. Katherine Paphitis, an epidemiologist at Public Health Ontario and lead author of the study, said the finding prompted health officials in both countries to join forces to determine its origins.

Dr. Paphitis said there are 2,500 serotypes of salmonella, but only about 100 sick people, and only a handful, are responsible for the majority of human infections. The elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to serious illness, she said.

Sequencing the bacteria allowed Public Health Ontario researchers to link the two sick infants. They discovered that every family had bearded dragons. Equipped with genetic fingerprints, Canadian officials contacted their counterparts at the CDC, who then identified a dozen cases of salmonella vitkin in the United States. Health officials in both countries have warned pet stores and pet owners of the risks. “Do not kiss or snuggle your bearded dragon,” the CDC said, “and do not eat or drink near it.”

The outbreak response highlighted collaboration between health agencies, Dr. Paphitis said, and also helped disseminate vital information about bearded dragons that seemed to elude many owners.

“If you let them roam freely,” she said, “maybe don’t leave them on your kitchen counter.”

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