The infection has been identified in infants in the U.S. and Canada
A rare salmonella strain that has affected several infants in recent years in the U.S. and Canada has been traced back to pet bearded dragons, according to a new study published this week.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP), linked the species to the Salmonella Vitkin outbreak that struck across North America in 2021 and 2022, following an investigation on the animals being potentially sold by the same breeder in southeast Asia.
The results come as the bearded dragon, also known as the Pogona, is steadily becoming a popular household pet across the country, as shared across social media in recent months.
Per the study, two identified cases of Salmonella enterica serovar Vitkin infection were “linked by whole-genome sequencing in infants” in Ontario, Canada, in 2022 — the households of which both have bearded dragons as pets.
“The outbreak strain was also isolated from an environmental sample collected from a patient’s bearded dragon enclosure,” the CDCP stated. Twelve cases were also traced in the U.S. between March 2021 and September 2022.
Bearded dragons, which are native to Australia, can be purchased in pet stores all over the U.S. and Canada, and are most likely bred in captivity.
The CDCP study reported that patients from Ontario were sold bearded dragons from various pet stores in the province by a single common intermediary supplier “which imported bearded dragons from various suppliers, including an international supplier located in southeast Asia.”
This supplier stopped importing reptiles from the international supplier in late 2021. Upon further investigation, the pet stores selling bearded dragons in the U.S. were supplied by a sole supplier who purchased the reptiles from the same international supplier, according to the report.
It is now being advised that bearded dragons being housed as pets shouldn’t roam outside of their tanks to prevent any further outbreaks.
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“They are the golden retriever of the reptile world in terms of ease of handling,” the president of the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians and reptile owner, Dr. La’Toya Latney, said, per The New York Times. “It actually increases the possibility of them getting sick or hurt.”
Households with infants should be cautious when it comes to having amphibians in general. Bearded dragons harbor salmonella bacteria in their digestive tracts that can spread into feces and on the lizard’s skin, making handling a potential cause of the spread of infection.
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