It’s said that cuddling with a beloved pet literally kills depression, relieves anxiety and strengthens the immune system. With COVID-19 numbers hitting all time highs in many countries and the impact on mental health from isolation, stress and anxiety being able to snuggle with your best friend has never been needed more.
That is unless your beloved pet is a bearded dragon. According to the CDC, at least 13 people across eight states (Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington) have been sickened by an outbreak of Salmonella muenster. At least seven people have been hospitalized, and five of those infected are younger than 5 years old.
Salmonella is a bacterium that we generally associated with foodborne illness after eating or drinking contaminated water or food. However, reptiles like turtles and bearded dragons can carry Salmonella in their poop regardless of how clean and healthy they look. They can then easily spread the bacteria to their bodies, habitats, and anything we place in their terrariums to make them feel at home. If you’re not careful when cleaning their habitat or playing with them, you can get sick from touching your mouth or face and ingesting the bacteria.
While I have never had a reptile as a pet, I have had fish, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, cats, cows, pigs, and horses as pets. I generally go for animals that are a bit softer or fluffier to touch. The key regardless of what pet you have is diligent hand hygiene after petting, feeding or cleaning up after them.
If we have learned one thing this year, we know how to clean our hands and clean and disinfect our homes. While there are so many benefits to having pets and we have seen the number of households with at least one pet rise to 67%, don’t drop your guard when you or your family are cuddling Cujo.