Water frogs linked to illness in young kids
July 20th, 2011
10:53 AM ET

Water frogs linked to illness in young kids

Frogs might be cute to look at but they might be hazardous to your children's health, which is why The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  is warning parents to keep young kids away from water frogs and their habitats.

At least 241 people in the United States were sickened after being infected with Salmonella from African dwarf frogs.  More than two-thirds of the ill were under age 10,  and 30 percent of those infected were hospitalized, according to the CDC.  Health officials say these frogs are not safe pets for children under 5 years old.

"People need to be aware that these water frogs as well as other amphibians and reptiles can carry salmonella that can make people sick," says Dr. Casey Barton Behravesh, an epidemiologist at the CDC. "In this particular outbreak there is a unique strain that has been linked with African frogs associated with a single facility," she adds.

Blue Lobster Farms, a frog breeding facility in Madera County, California, has been linked to the outbreak, according to the CDC.  The company is breeds the majority of African dwarf frogs sold in the United States. The facility voluntarily stopped shipping the frogs in April after 222 people in 41 states were reportedly infected with Salmonella, according to the CDC. In June the company resumed shipments. Since then several more people have been sickened.

"Health care officials at the Madera County Department of Environmental Health are working with the owner of Blue Lobster Farms to conduct interventions as well as ongoing investigations," says Behravesh. But she adds, "We aren't sure if they are effective. We do know reports with this specific outbreak strain are ongoing."

These  frogs are usually found in home aquariums or fish tanks and are commonly sold throughout the United States in pet stores, toy stores, novelty stores, the Internet, fairs and carnivals, but Behravesh says "any frog or ther amphibian is a potential risk for Salmonella."

Most of the victims have been children under 5 years old, some of whom  were hospitalized according to the CDC.  Salmonella can cause life-threatening illnesses and hospitalizations, particularly in children, elderly and immune-suppressed people such as cancer patients.  Behravesh says "with school starting soon it's important for teachers to be aware and consider the age of children in their classroom to decide if an animal is appropriate," before putting children at risk.

The CDC recommends thorough hand washing after contact with frogs.  But it goes further than that because water from the aquarium can be contaminated, so it's recommended to clean their tanks outside of the home to avoid contaminating surfaces inside the house.  Parents need to remember that other amphibians and reptiles such as turtles can also spread Salmonella.

Follow@CNNHealth on Twitter.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.