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Parents beware: Pet frogs linked to salmonella outbreak, CDC says

March 11, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • A government report released Monday by Pediatrics says that African dwarf frogs can carry salmonella. A 2008-11 outbreak sickened nearly 400 people, mostly children. Since these miniature amphibians can live up to 18 years, some linked with the outbreak may remain in U.S. homes.
A government report released Monday by Pediatrics says that African dwarf… (Centers for Disease Control…)

A four-year survey of a strange salmonella outbreak in children found that the culprits appear to be pet African dwarf frogs, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics is the first to link a nationwide outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium to an amphibian species.

Salmonella is typically a food-borne disease: Nontyphoidal salmonella sickens an estimated 1.2 million people per year, hospitalizing 23,000 and resulting in 450 deaths. But studies in the mid-1990s showed that about 74,000 salmonella infections came from exposure to reptiles and amphibians, such as turtles and frogs. 

CDC researchers identified 376 cases from 44 states between January 2008 and December 2011. Of those with available information, 29% were hospitalized, and none of them died. When the researchers compared the salmonella outbreak cases to people who had contracted some other strain, they found that about 67% of outbreak cases were associated with frog exposure.

While those infected ranged in age from less than 1 year to a mature 86, about 69% were less than 10 years old and the median age was 5. Since such frogs are often kept in aquariums as household pets, it’s likely that the critters were infecting their young owners. Interviews revealed that only 27% of the patients reported directly touching the frog – but about 60% said they came into contact with the aquarium water, one way or another.

"Children are likely at higher risk for acquiring Salmonella infection because of their decreased likelihood to practice good hand-washing, as well as increased risk of hand-to-face contact, and contact with the environment," the researchers wrote.

After testing aquariums in eight patients’ homes, and then tracing back their purchases to the African dwarf frog distributors, they found the salmonella strain at a common breeding facility in Madera County in central California.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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