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Salmonella infections across Canada linked to snakes and their rodent feed

A man holds a python snake in his hand at an Athens pet shop in 2002. Many  people who became ill from salmonella reported direct or indirect contact with snakes and feeder rodents before falling ill, the Public Health Agency of Canada says. (Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters - image credit)
A man holds a python snake in his hand at an Athens pet shop in 2002. Many people who became ill from salmonella reported direct or indirect contact with snakes and feeder rodents before falling ill, the Public Health Agency of Canada says. (Yiorgos Karahalis/Reuters - image credit)

An ongoing outbreak of salmonella infections in eight provinces is linked to snakes and rodents used to feed them, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PJAC) says.

As of March 19, there are 70 confirmed cases of Salmonella I and Salmonella typhimurium illness reported in this outbreak in:

  • British Columbia (3).

  • Alberta (10).

  • Saskatchewan (7).

  • Manitoba (3).

  • Ontario (32).

  • Quebec (11).

  • New Brunswick (1)

  • Newfoundland and Labrador (3).

It marks an increase of 25 cases since the first public health notice was issued last April, PHAC said.

"Many of the individuals who became sick reported direct or indirect contact with snakes and feeder rodents (used as reptile food) before their illnesses occurred," the agency said in a release.

"Some people who became sick did not touch or handle the snakes or feeder rodents themselves, but lived in the same house where they were kept."

A single common supplier of snakes or feeder rodents has not been identified.

The outbreak is a reminder that salmonella can be found in many animal species, including snakes and rodents.

"To prevent illness, individuals are advised to practice good hand hygiene and frequent handwashing after contact with snakes, feeder rodents and their environments," PHAC advised.

Both this investigation and past outbreaks of salmonella illnesses linked to snakes and rodents highlighted the role reptile owners and business operators can play in preventing new illnesses linked to these types of pets.

In the latest outbreak, individuals became sick between February 2022 and February 2024. Ten have been hospitalized. One person died with salmonella confirmed as the cause of death, which was reported last April, PHAC said. For this outbreak, the illness reporting period is between four and six weeks.

Never kiss a pet rodent and other tips

The outbreak investigation started last spring.

Using a laboratory method called whole genome sequencing, investigators determined that some salmonella illnesses dating back to 2022 were caused by the same outbreak strain as the illnesses that occurred in 2023 and 2024.

Thirteen (19 per cent) cases are in children five years of age or younger. About half (53 per cent) are female.

To prevent the direct or indirect spread of the bacteria to others, the agency advised:

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching a reptile or rodent, and anything they eat, or after being in the area where they live, play or touch.

  • Regularly clean any surfaces or objects your reptile or rodent touches with soapy water followed by a household sanitizer.

  • Never kiss a pet rodent or reptile.

  • Do not keep reptiles or rodents in homes, daycare centres, schools, or other facilities with children aged five years and under.

  • Always supervise children when they touch or play with reptiles or rodents.

    • Do not let them put reptiles and rodents or their supplies near their face or share their food or drinks with pets.

    • Make sure they thoroughly wash their hands after touching reptiles or rodents.

    • Children five years and under should not handle reptiles or rodents.

  • Do not clean or bathe reptiles or rodents in the kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, or bathtubs.

  • Do not keep food used for reptiles or rodents in the kitchen or any room where people eat or drink.

  • Keep reptiles and rodents and all their food, containers, enclosures, and any objects that have been in their enclosures, such as plants or enrichment items, away from the kitchen and other places where food is made or eaten.

  • Do not keep frozen rodents in the same fridge or freezer as human food.

  • Freezing rodents does not kill salmonella.

  • Always defrost and prepare frozen rodents outside the kitchen, using dedicated utensils and containers

  • Be aware of the specific needs of your reptile. Stress for a reptile can increase the shedding of Salmonella.

  • Always keep reptiles and live rodents in habitats specifically designed for them.

  • If you choose to have a reptile or rodent in your home, talk to your health care provider or veterinarian about the right reptile or rodent for your family, especially if your family includes children 5 years and younger, pregnant people, immunocompromised individuals, or adults 65 years of age and over

Salmonella symptoms include a sudden onset of headache, fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and sometimes vomiting.