Pet frogs carrying Salmonella make kids sick
Investigators traced the salmonella outbreak to contact with African dwarf frogs.
March 11th, 2013
12:01 AM ET

Pet frogs carrying Salmonella make kids sick

Raw meat is a notorious Salmonella carrier. It can also be found on unclean kitchen counters. An investigation published this week in the journal of Pediatrics suggests we should also look for the deadly bacteria in pet frogs.

Investigators from public health agencies across the United States found that African dwarf frogs are causing a nationwide outbreak of a specific Salmonella strain in children.

A group of health professionals make up the Salmonella Typhimurium Outbreak Investigation Team, which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recently, the team has been examining the effects of African dwarf frogs on people’s health.

“Amphibians and reptiles should never be kept in homes with children less than 5 years old or with people who have immune deficiencies,” said lead author and CDC public health advisor Shauna Mettee Zarecki. This includes day care settings and nursing homes, she said.

This investigation is the first to report a nationwide Salmonella outbreak associated with amphibians.

The team examined an outbreak of that strain from 2008 to 2011 and identified 376 cases of Salmonella in 44 states to use in a matched case-control study. The control group was made up of people with recent Salmonella infections other than the outbreak strain, and the cases group included people with the outbreak strain infection. About 70% of those infected were children younger than 10 years old.

Here’s where it gets more complicated. Investigators interviewed 114 of those patients and about 60% of them reported frog exposure. Out of the patients who knew the type of frog, about 80% reported coming in contact with ADFs. In other words, salmonella infection was significantly associated with frog exposure in the study.

The investigators concluded the majority of children got sick from indirect exposure to these animals, such as handling aquarium water. Mettee Zarecki stressed that parents and/or children should wash animal habitats outside to avoid contaminating their kitchen sink or bathtub. Investigators said aquarium water can become more contaminated over time, increasing infection risk.

Mettee Zarecki said 29% of patients - mostly children - were hospitalized in this investigation.

Investigators tested samples from the frogs’ aquariums in patients’ homes, pet stores and a day care center that all matched the outbreak strain. According to the CDC’s website, patient purchases led investigators to one ADF breeding facility at Blue Lobster Farms in Madera County, California.

What’s troubling is frogs carrying the outbreak strain from this facility could still be in households, continuing to spread the infection. Surprisingly, pet frogs can live to up 18 years, more akin to a pet dog than a goldfish.

The investigators want pediatricians to warn patients of the risk associated with pet frogs. If you do come in contact with an amphibian or reptile, investigators recommend precautions like washing your hands with soap and warm water and using hand sanitizer.

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