REPTILE RELATED DISEASES IN HUMANS - A summary
- In their natural state, reptiles present almost no health threat to humans as a result of the micro-organisms these animals carry.
- Captivity places tremendous stress on reptiles, and changes their natural microbiology in a way that increases illness in the animals leading to high levels of early morbidity. The majority of reptiles do not even survive their first year in captivity.
- Because captive reptiles are prolific carriers of salmonella and other micro-organisms, they can be a major cause of disease in humans. In February 2000, Prof Liam Donaldson, Chief Medical Officer for the UK Department of Health, advised that children under five, pregnant women and the elderly should avoid all contact with reptiles.
- Reptile handlers acquire disease as a direct result of contact with the animal - whether from faeces, urine, skin or saliva - or the animal's cage, provisions, furnishings or water supply.
- Salmonella is a common bacteria associated with human disease, but reptiles additionally carry worms and ticks which also can cause illness. It has been shown that relevant microorganisms may survive for long periods in the general environment, in tap water for three months, and in faecal material for up to two and a half years. Transmission routes can also be highly indirect - e.g. through an intermediary host or inanimate object.
- At the height of the U.S. terrapin trade in the mid 1970s, there were 280,000 cases of turtle-related salmonellosis in humans. Pet stores attempted to educate their staff and the public about the dangers of keeping reptiles, but these efforts failed. Thus the U.S. Food and Drug Administration introduced a nation-wide ban on the trade in terrapins in 1975. Canada followed suit in 1976.
- Most people who deal with exotic reptiles have only a vague knowledge of the disease risks associated with such animals. By buying these animals, the public unwittingly runs the risk of bringing reptile-associated disease into their homes.
For more information see the reptile campaign index.