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Pet Frogs Behind Salmonella Outbreak

CDC report counts 85 cases across 31 states

THURSDAY, Jan. 7, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time in the United States, doctors have spotted an outbreak of Salmonella linked to African dwarf frogs, typically kept in home aquariums.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the outbreak is ongoing, with 85 cases of Salmonella infection in 31 states identified by the end of December.

Salmonella outbreaks have previously been tied to other small pets, such as turtles, but "this is a unique investigation," said report coauthor and CDC epidemiologist Shauna Mettee. "This is the first known outbreak of Salmonella due to contact with frogs -- especially African dwarf frogs."

The infections are mostly in children, Mettee noted. "Half the cases were less than 5 [years of age] and almost 80 percent of all the cases were less than 10 years old. And we are continuing to see new cases," she said.

The report is published in the Jan. 8 issue of the CDC's journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The first signs of an outbreak occurred in April in Utah, where officials identified five cases of Salmonella infection in children. Cases were then found in other states, including Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico and California.

These frogs can be purchased at pet stores, small convenience stores, fairs and toy stores, among other outlets, according to Mettee. "You put them in your aquarium with other fish," she said.

However, like reptiles, such as turtles, frogs are known to carry Salmonella.

The disease is passed to humans not only by touching the frog itself, but from the water in the aquarium.

"Anything the frog comes into contact with is contaminated with Salmonella," Mettee explained. Even when you change the water in the aquarium, some Salmonella remains -- either in the water, the aquarium gravel or other surfaces within the tank.

Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale of turtles whose shells are less than four inches long, because of the high risk of Salmonella. There are no current regulations governing the sale of frogs, Mettee noted.

Mettee is not discouraging people from buying these frogs, but it is important to follow some simple guidelines to protect yourself and your children.

"If you have any contact with the frog, the water or their habitat, wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly," she said. "Adults should assist young children with the hand washing."

In addition, the aquarium should not be cleaned near where food is prepared, such as in the kitchen sink.

If the tank is cleaned in a bathtub, the tub should also be cleaned with bleach and water, she said.

"We are also recommending that the aquarium not be kept in a child's bedroom, especially for children less than 5," Mettee said.

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours after contact with the germ. Infections typically clear up in five to seven days.

But, severe infections can occur, particularly in infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. In severe cases, the Salmonella infection can spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body, causing death unless antibiotics are administered, according to the CDC.

Dr. Pascal James Imperato, dean and distinguished service professor of the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in New York City, said, "It has long been demonstrated that frogs, turtles, snakes and other reptiles, as well as chicks and ducklings, can serve as healthy carriers of a variety of salmonella species which can cause serious illness in humans."

The current multi-state outbreak of salmonella again demonstrates the risks of contact with such pets and their excrement-contaminated environments, he said.

More information

For more information on salmonellosis, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Shauna Mettee, M.S.N., M.P.H., epidemiologist, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Pascal James Imperato, M.D., MPH&TM, Dean and Distinguished Service Professor, School of Public Health, Downstate Medical Center, New York City; Jan. 8, 2010, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
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