CDC Issues Salmonella Outbreak Warning for 25 States Caused by Household Pet

A salmonella outbreak that has affected at least 44 people in 25 states has been linked to a beloved pet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Monday that contact with bearded dragons, a popular reptilian pet, has resulted in more than three dozen people across the country becoming infected with strain of the bacteria called Salmonella Uganda.

According to the CDC, the outbreak of the strain Salmonella Uganda was first reported on Dec. 24, 2020, with new cases reported in each of the following 12 months and reaching a total of 44 confirmed cases as of Jan. 10, 2022. However, the CDC noted that "the true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses." The outbreak has reached a total of 25 states, with the ages of those infected ranging from less than 1-year-old to 84-years-old and eight of the infections coming from children under the age of 5. Of the confirmed cases, there have been 15 hospitalizations and no deaths.

An investigation into the outbreak linked the infections to contact with bearded dragons, the CDC said. Health officials said of 33 infected people interviewed, 21 said they owned or had touched a bearded dragon and their supplies in the week before they fell ill. On Nov. 19, 2021, Oregon Health Authority collected samples from a bearded dragon in a sick person's home for testing and discovered that "the Salmonella on the animal is closely related to bacteria from sick people. This means that people likely got sick from touching bearded dragons."

The CDC noted that while bearded dragons, a species native to Australia, can appear healthy and clean, they can "carry Salmonella germs in their droppings." Those germs can "easily spread to their bodies and anything in the area where they live and roam," and pet owners can get sick from touching their bearded dragons or anything in its environment and then touching their mouth and swallowing Salmonella germs. The CDC has advised bearded dragon owners or those in contact with them to wash their hands thoroughly with soap after touching, feeding or cleaning the pet's area. They also advise that people should not "kiss or snuggle your bearded dragon, and don't eat or drink around it."

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While typically a food-borne illness, salmonella can be contracted in other ways, such as is the case with bearded dragons. Symptoms of salmonellosis – diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever – typically occur within 12 to 72 hours. Although the illness typically lasts four to seven days and doesn't require treatment, in rare cases, the infection can spread from the intestines to the blood stream, requiring the individual to be hospitalized.