Do Iguanas Carry Diseases?

It is important for one to know that all reptiles do present potential health risks to humans.  One of the most highly publicized diseases that can be passed either directly or indirectly from animals to humans in recent years has been salmonella.  The reason salmonella is a problem with reptiles specifically is that the strains or types of salmonella that can typically infect them are different from those that we humans normally encounter in our food.  These strains have been known to cause symptoms ranging from very mild to potentially lethal.  Even mild strains can sometimes be deadly to humans who have compromised or immature immune systems such as infants, toddlers, the elderly or anyone with a suppressed immune system due to illness, as well as organ transplant recipients receiving anti-rejection drugs,    or cancer patients who are partaking in chemotherapy treatments.

Most instances of transmission of salmonella from pets to humans takes place because humans are not aware in the first place that the risk exists.  Knowing about it and taking the proper precautions can greatly reduce but not completely eliminate this risk.  Fortunately, you can take certain precautions such as washing your hands after every time you handle an iguana and before handling an iguana as well.

There are all kinds of animals that are known to carry diseases that can be passed on to us humans.  Reptiles are no exception to this and most, if not all, reptiles have been known to carry salmonella which can cause serious illness and require hospitalization, sometimes even leading to death.  If you have or are planning on having babies or work or are planning on working with children or other at risk humans you may want to reconsider getting an iguana as a pet.

It is not only iguanas that carry the salmonella bacteria.  Another reptile it is most commonly found in includes turtles.  Sometimes this type of bacteria can find its way into foods.  Recent food poisoning outbreaks involving tomatoes show that these foods are not always animal products.

An infection with salmonella bacteria usually affects the gastrointestinal system (stomach and intestines) within humans and in more severe cases has even been known to spread to the blood, bones, or even to the fluid around the brain, however these types of infection are usually less common in most cases.  The bacteria is often found in the feces of certain animals, and particularly where reptiles such as iguanas are concerned.  People who have these types of animals as pets are more at risk of contracting the infection because the bacteria that is found in the feces can get onto the skin of the animal, and then when an owner handles the reptile, the bacteria then gets onto their hands.  Again, hand washing is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of this happening.

A few other ways to reduce your chances of getting salmonella are as follows:

  • Don’t just wash your hands, wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile.  As well as after touching anything in the area where they live or roam.  Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
  • Don’t let young children touch the reptile or anything it may touch, including the container or aquarium it is kept in.  For older children, they should always be supervised and instructed to wash their hands after handling these creatures.
  • Keep reptiles out of the home if you have young children or people residing with you who have weakened immune systems.
  • Never touch your mouth after handling a reptile and do not eat or drink around them.
  • Never let a reptile roam around the house freely, especially in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored such as the kitchen or pantries.
  • When cleaning habitats or its contents, they should always be cleaned carefully outside of the house using disposable gloves when cleaning them.  Never dispose of water in sinks used for food preparation or for obtaining drinking water.
  • Never bathe animals or their habitats in your kitchen sink.  If bathtubs must be used for this purpose they should be immediately cleaned thoroughly afterwards with bleach.  This will help to disinfect the area
  • Always wash any clothing that the reptile may have touched
  • Use soap or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that the creature may have come in contact with.

Other strains of salmonella can spread to people in foods that have come into contact with infected animal feces.  These exposures can happen with food sources such as poultry, eggs, and beef when they are not cooked enough or in fruits and vegetables that have become contaminated from feces in the soil or water where they are grown.  If fruits and vegetables are not washed thoroughly before eaten, they can spread the bacteria.  Some of the symptoms of salmonella include fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea.  The best way to avoid getting this infection is to not have a reptile as a pet in the first place.

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