Salmonella's back. Government officials announced this week that salmonella carried by your cute little green friends -- this time frogs -- have caused yet another outbreak in children.
Aquatic pet frogs are under fire this week after 48 people in 25 states came down with salmonella serotype typhimurium, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children were most likely to be infected. Among the reported cases, 77 percent were in children under age 10.
Officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Tuesday that all amphibians and reptiles can carry salmonella bacteria after reports of the multistate outbreak surfaced. Young children -- who would most likely touch the frogs -- the elderly and people with compromised immune systems can fall gravely ill with the bacteria.
"Most persons infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection," according to an FDA press release.
Salmonella in the guts of frogs, salamanders, newts, turtles, lizards and snakes can easily spread from a feces-contaminated aquarium into the mouth, nose and eyes of small children.
In light of the new infections, the FDA urged parents to keep reptiles and amphibians away from children under age 5, and clean aquariums in a space away from the kitchen sink.
It [salmonella] could be from turtles, it could be frogs, it can be passed from dogs. People can get it from food poisoning and pass it to others," said Dr. Steven Rowell, hospital director of the Foster Hospital for Small Animals in North Grafton, Mass. "Many times it isn't diagnosed, but if a person gets really sick they can be hospitalized and doctors may do the full testing."
The current scare isn't the first time a generation of parents somehow forgot about salmonella and pets, and it likely won't be the last. The CDC reported 107 infections from salmonella linked to turtles in 2008, although the FDA put limits on turtle sales for this very reason.
"When I was a kid, we had these little plastic trays with water, and a little plastic palm tree that was filled with little tiny turtles," said veterinarian Marty Becker.
Those pet turtles grew quite popular in the late '60s and '70s, but also led to a boom in salmonella cases.
Turtles Known to Spread Salmonella for Decades
In 1975, the commercial sale of turtles less than 4 inches in length was banned. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimated that 2 million households kept turtles in 2006.
"I know the CDC really doesn't want reptiles around young kids," said Becker. Especially for infants, he noted, "everything the baby picks up goes in their mouth."
Yet following the CDC recommendations to remove the turtles from homes with children won't eliminate all pet-borne diseases.
Becker pointed out that it's possible to get a variety of diseases from furry and green friends, even if a family doesn't own pets.
Parasites From Cats and Dogs
One of the most frightening and rare infections lurk in the sandbox. Becker said on rare occasions children can catch dangerous parasites from soil contaminated by animals.
"Forget the hot zone in Africa," said Becker, referring to a book about the Ebola virus. "The hot zone is right in your backyard or dog park."
Becker said 600 children every year go blind from parasites commonly found in gardens, lawns and outdoor areas. Animals pass the parasites in their feces and children playing outside then may get contaminated, touch their mouths and contract the bug.
"They put their fingers in the dirt and the dirt in their mouth," Becker said. "These larval worms realize they are in the wrong host and start wandering around."
Unfortunately, the worms may wander into the retina and cause blindness. In total, 700 people lose their vision from a zoonotic parasite each year, according to the CDC.
Furry friends are easy targets for deer ticks, or as Becker calls them, "heinous hitchhikers," which thrive in wooded areas in the Northeast.
Hitchhikers on Your Furry Friends
Once outside, even on the leash, a tick can hitch a ride on your dog or cat, and then infect you with Lyme disease. More than 25,000 people reported Lyme disease infections to the CDC last year.
Pets also can pick up the American dog tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick while playing outside. These ticks carry the severe infection of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Although discovered in the Rocky Mountains, the disease is far more common in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions and affects 250 to 1,200 people each year, according to the CDC.
Becker noted the prevalence of tick-borne diseases recently motivated organizations including the non-profit Companion Animal Parasite Council [CAPC] to ask pet owners everywhere to fight parasites year-round.
"People would try to time parasite control for the seasons, but often they'd forget," said Becker. "They [CAPC] don't care where you live, they ask for lifetime parasite control for all pets."
Cats, Birds and Bacteria
Rowell noted that pet birds can carry the diseases psittacosis and cryptococcus.
Meanwhile, Becker warned that cats put their owners at eight times the normal risk for contracting the superbug MRSA. But he added people can cut the risk and keep the pet by following good hygiene.
"You don't want to clean the cages out in the same place you prepare food," said Becker, who added people should never wash water dishes or pets in the kitchen sink.
Becker noted that keeping a yard clean can also go a long way to prevent roundworm and other parasites from infecting young children.
"If you pick up your yard every other day, the feces won't get to the infective stage," explained Becker.
Not allowing your pet to lick your face can also stop the spread of parasites. Keeping open wounds covered will stop other infections, as will good, old-fashioned hand washing.
"With most healthy people and the usual good hygiene, it's not a common problem," said Rowell. "The most common thing I can think of is toxoplasmosis in pregnant women."
Rowell recommended pregnant woman ask someone else to change their cat litter when they're pregnant, avoid digging outside in the garden and wash their hands if they do touch soil.
Despite the variety of pet-to-human diseases, Becker pointed out that most of them are non-lethal.
"You don't read in the news of veterinarians dropping dead of these zoological diseases ... like Ebola and bird flu," said Becker.