ATLANTA, April 25 (UPI) -- A two-year outbreak of Salmonella that infected 132 people -- mostly children age 5 and younger -- was traced by health officials to pet bearded dragons.
Officials of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of April 21, 132 people infected with Salmonella Cotham were reported from 31 states since Feb. 21, 2012 -- 58 percent were children age 5 or younger.
"Epidemiologic, laboratory and trace-back findings linked this outbreak of Salmonella infections to contact with pet bearded dragons purchased from multiple stores in different states," the CDC said in a statement. "Bearded dragons are popular pet lizards that come in a variety of colors."
Many think Salmonella infections are caused by contaminated food, but these germs can also be caught by handling animals, including reptiles or amphibians. The infections can also result from having contact with reptile or amphibian environments, including the water from containers or aquariums where they live.
No deaths were reported, but 42 percent of the sickened persons were hospitalized.
The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria, a national public health surveillance system that tracks changes in the anti-microbial susceptibility of certain intestinal bacteria, conducted antibiotic resistance testing on Salmonella Cotham samples collected from three ill persons infected with the outbreak strain.
Of the three samples, one was resistant to ceftriaxone, an antibiotic used to treat serious Salmonella infections, the CDC said.
"It is very important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching reptiles or anything in the area where they live and roam," CDC officials said. "Don't let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch amphibians or reptiles, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums. Don't keep reptiles and amphibians in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with young children."
The CDC also recommended:
-- Don't touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals. -- Don't let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored.
-- Don't bathe animals or clean their homes in the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub. To prevent cross-contamination, animals should be bathed in a small plastic tub or bin that is dedicated for animal use only.