In strange 2022 news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating a salmonella outbreak believed to be caused by pet reptiles. Specifically, bearded dragons.
Earlier this week, the CDC announced it was investigating the outbreak after 44 cases of salmonella infections had been reported in 25 states—with at least 15 resulting in hospitalizations—between December of 2020 and December 2021. “Epidemiologic and laboratory data show that contact with bearded dragons is making people sick,” the agency said, adding that “the true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported,” since many people infected with salmonella likely recover without getting medical treatment or a test to confirm the bacterial infection.
Salmonella infections are fairly common—the CDC estimates there are 1.35 million cases every year—and can range from serious to fairly mundane. Most people exposed to the bacteria have no symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic, and the most common symptoms for those who do have them are diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. In these mild cases, most people recover within a few days without treatment.
But for some at-risk populations—infants, kids under five, adults over 65, people with weakened immune systems, those with chronic conditions like heart disease, and those with severe illness—the infection can be more severe, and they may need antibiotics in order to fully recover. It’s something worth taking seriously: salmonella infections cause an estimated 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths every year in the U.S., per the CDC.
A widespread salmonella outbreak is typically caused by contaminated food. But pet birds and reptiles can also be the culprits. (Their feces can carry the bacteria.) To stay safe, don’t “kiss or snuggle” your reptilian friends, the CDC says. If you have a bearded dragon (or are, for some other reason, exposed to one) don’t eat around it, don’t let it in the kitchen, and always wash your hands with soap and water after touching it.