Warning of salmonella risk to children posed by pet reptiles

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AROUND one in four cases of salmonella in pre-school children are linked to a pet snake or other reptile, a study reveals today.

The findings have triggered a new warning of the risks to children amid evidence of a rise in ownership of exotic animals alongside an increase in cases of salmonella infection among under fives, with babies most likely to be affected.

The infection typically causes gastroenteritis and fever and can even lead to abscesses and meningitis.

A study by experts from Public Health England, published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, reviewed all cases of the illness reported to authorities in the south west of England for the three years to 2013. Of 175 cases, more than one in four involved exposure to reptiles.

Children with the illness linked to reptiles tended to be much younger than those who had become infected as a result of food poisoning, with an average age of just six months.

Experts found salmonella infection also tended to be more severe.

Children with this type of infection were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to have been admitted to hospital for treatment as those with other types of salmonella infection.

This was particularly the case for babies aged under 12 months, half of whom were admitted to hospital, compared with around one in five of those whose infection was not linked with reptile exposure.

Significantly more of the cases linked to reptile exposure also had more serious complications.

Researchers say reptiles pass salmonella in their excrement.

“While crawling and undergoing developmental stages that include oral exploration, the younger child would be particularly at risk of contracting salmonella shed from a reptile sharing the same space,” they said.