Why turtles, snakes and lizards are not the right pets for younger children

At first glance reptiles such as turtles, lizards and snakes, might seem like pretty good pets. We all know that many kids are attracted to them, especially boys. They are quiet, can live in small space, and generally don’t require too much care. But there is one big problem; turtles, lizards, and snakes can carry germs (especially Salmonella) that often make people sick.

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You might be surprised to know that in the United States about 70,000 people get salmonellosis from contact with reptiles each year. No data are available from Thailand but it almost certainly a common cause of illness here as well. Most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. Salmonellosis, the illness caused by the bacteria, usually lasts four to seven days. Although most recover without treatment, some people develop diarrhea that is so severe that they need to be hospitalized. In these patients, the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other parts of the body. When this happens, death can occur quickly unless the appropriate antibiotics are given quickly. Infants, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to become severely ill.

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So what can be done?

  • Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of households that include children aged <5 years or immunocompromised persons. A family expecting a child should remove any pet reptile from the home before the infant arrives.
  • Pet-store owners, health-care providers, and veterinarians should provide information to owners and potential purchasers of reptiles and amphibians about the risks for and prevention of salmonellosis from these pets.
  • Persons at increased risk for infection or serious complications from salmonellosis (e.g., children aged <5 years and immunocompromised persons) should avoid contact with reptiles and amphibians and any items that have been in contact with reptiles and amphibians.
  • Reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed in childcare centers.
  • Persons always should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling reptiles and amphibians of their cages.
  • Reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed to roam freely throughout a home or living area.
  • Pet reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of kitchens and other food-preparation areas. Kitchen sinks should not be used to bathe reptiles and amphibians or to wash their dishes, cages, or aquariums. If bathtubs are used for these purposes, they should be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected with bleach.
  • Reptiles and amphibians in public settings (e.g., zoos and exhibits) should be kept from direct contact with patrons except in designated areas equipped with adequate hand-washing facilities. Food and drink should not be allowed in these areas.

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