It’s not just petting zoos that can make kids sick. Some pets are proving risky too.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that “pocket pets” such as hamsters, mice and rats have infected 30 people – mostly children – in 10 states with a dangerous multidrug-resistant form of salmonella, a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach pain.
Reptiles and amphibians are also notorious for carrying salmonella. About 70,000 people contract salmonellosis from reptiles in the United States each year.
Baby chicks and ducklings often carry salmonella. Parakeets and parrots can carry the bacterium Chlamydia psittaci, which can cause fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and a dry cough.
The CDC has recommendations on how to choose a “pocket pet”:
• Don’t pick one that is quiet, tired, has diarrhea, looks sickly or has discharge from the eyes or nose. The pet should be lively and alert with a glossy coat free of droppings.
• Unfortunately, the signs for turtles are not as obvious; salmonella occurs naturally in turtles, and those carrying the bacteria usually do not appear sick in any way.
• Don’t choose an animal that is sharing a cage with another animal that has diarrhea or looks sick.
Should you decide to keep a “pocket pet”, the CDC has the following recommendations:
• Always wash hands after handling pets.
• Children under 5 years old and people with weak immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS) should avoid contact with reptiles.
• Don’t allow children to kiss pets.
• Reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed in child-care centers or nursing homes.
• Do not allow reptiles and amphibians to roam freely throughout a home.
• Do not allow reptiles and amphibians in the kitchen.
• Do not use kitchen sinks to clean cages or aquariums.