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Forget about warts- frogs can make you (and your kids) sick!

March 22, 2013

I don’t know about you, but I’m just not into frogs, lizards, snakes or any other creepy, crawly, slimy creature. I am still haunted by memories of my cousins (very mischievous boys!) chasing me with a frog in their hands as I ran for dear life. I’m not sure what I thought would happen if they caught me, but I sure didn’t want to find out.

Turns out, my fears have finally been substantiated. Well, not really. But, there has been a new study published this month that identifies a type of frog commonly kept as a pet as responsible for an outbreak of Salmonella infection.

African dwarf frogs responsible for Salmonella infections

A nationwide outbreak of Salmonella infections found primarily in children began in 2008. Over the course of three years, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in conjunction with state and local health departments embarked upon an investigative study to determine the cause of the outbreak.

Here’s what they found:

  • 376 people in 44 states were sickened from 2008 to 2011
  • The illness was traced back to one particular facility that specializes in breeding African dwarf frogs to sell as pets.
  • Most of the children contaminated hadn’t handled the frogs directly, but likely were exposed to the frog’s habitat- the tank and water that the frog lives in
  • About half of the households where children were sickened reported cleaning the frog’s tank in the bathroom or kitchen sinks
  • Most of the parents were unaware that amphibians (frogs) could carry an illness such as Salmonella

Is Salmonella infection serious?

Salmonella is a type of bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea, and can be especially serious for young children. It can be passed to humans through animal products- most often poultry, eggs and dairy. However, any foods that have been in contact with contaminated animal products can carry the bacteria as well.

Perhaps what is less well-known about Salmonella, though, is that it can also be transmitted by animals themselves. Baby chicks and ducks, despite their irresistible cuteness, can pass the bacteria to a child. Frogs, fish, lizards, turtles and snakes can all harbor Salmonella as well.

It’s not just touching the animal, though, that can sicken your child. Any part of the animal’s habitat- contact with the glass tank or bowl, the contents inside or the water in the container can be harmful, too. 

What should you do?

For children under 5 years of age who have contact with an animal that can transmit Salmonella, assist them with hand washing immediately after contact with the animal.

If you have older children, and they’re interested in keeping amphibians and reptiles in the home, proceed with caution. Keep these guidelines in mind and teach them to your kids:

  • Wash hands with soap and water after every contact with the animal or the animal’s habitat. 
  • When cleaning the tank or bowl, don’t use kitchen or bathroom sinks or tubs to drain the water. Dump water outside and use disposable gloves while cleaning.
And remember, too, that if you’re not sure about a particular pet in your home, ask your pediatrician. Your doctor can be a great resource in helping you decide what is best and healthiest for your family.