Salmonella outbreak linked to pet frogs

Published January 7, 2010 11:22 am
Health » Utahns were first to be sickened
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A 31-state salmonella outbreak first detected in Utah was linked to pet frogs, U.S. health officials said Thursday, suggesting that public-health efforts to educate children about the proper handling of reptiles should be expanded to amphibians.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta started a national investigation to find the source of the outbreak this summer, after five Utahns were sickened by the Typhimurium strain of salmonella.

In all, 85 people across several states became ill and nearly two-thirds had had some contact with frogs, according to a report released Thursday by the CDC. Most of the patients were children and among those whose outcomes are known, a third were hospitalized. None died.

Not all patients knew the type of frog they had, but those who did all identified the aquatic African dwarf frog variant. The pets --- one sickened Utahn won the frog at a carnival -- were traced back to a single breeder in California.

The bacteria was likely spread through contact with the tanks' water, not the frogs themselves, according to the report.

Of those who supplied information to the CDC, 30 percent said they cleaned the frog's aquarium in the kitchen sink and 35 percent used the bathroom basin.

Turtles have been the source of other salmonella outbreaks, but this is the first time amphibians have been blamed, according to the CDC. In a separate study cited by the report, 21 percent of frogs from 16 retailers tested positive for salmonella.

Public education efforts "should be expanded to include the risk for salmonellosis from aquatic pet frogs and other amphibians," the CDC wrote in an editorial note accompanying the report. "Preventive measures include washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching animals or cleaning aquariums."

Salmonella is a bacterium that causes intestinal illness in about 1.4 million Americans per year, according to the report. While most salmonella is food-borne, animals can also carry the bacteria. While most people recover without treatment within four to seven days, some people develop diarrhea so severe they are hospitalized and can become critically ill, according to the CDC.

Tribune reporter Heather May contributed to this report.

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