An ongoing outbreak of salmonella infections in eight provinces is linked to snakes and rodents they were fed, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.

As of March 19, 70 confirmed cases of Salmonella I and Salmonella typhimurium illnesses have been reported in this outbreak:

  • British Columbia (3).
  • Alberta (10).
  • Saskatchewan (7).
  • Manitoba (3).
  • Ontario (32).
  • Quebec (11).
  • New Brunswick (1)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador (3).

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

“Some people who became ill 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 rodents has not been identified.

The outbreak is a memory that salmonella occurs in many animal species, including snakes and rodents.

“To prevent illness, individuals are advised to practice good hand hygiene and frequent hand washing after contact with snakes, feeding rodents and their environment,” PHAC advised.

Both this investigation and previous outbreaks of salmonella illnesses associated with snakes and rodents have demonstrated the role reptile owners and operators can play in preventing new illnesses associated with these types of pets.

In the most recent outbreak, people became ill between February 2022 and February 2024. Ten were hospitalized and one person died, with salmonella confirmed as the cause of death. In this outbreak, the disease reporting period is between four and six weeks.

Never Kiss a Pet Rodent and Other Tips

The investigation into the outbreak began last spring.

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

Thirteen (19 percent) cases involve children aged five or younger. About half (53 percent) are female.

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

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching a reptile or rodent and anything it eats, or after being in the area where it lives, plays or touches.
  • Regularly clean any surfaces or objects your reptile or rodent touches with soapy water followed by a household disinfectant.
  • Never kiss a pet rodent or reptile.
  • Do not keep reptiles or rodents in homes, daycare centers, schools or other facilities with children under five years old.
  • Always supervise children when they touch or play with reptiles or rodents.
    • Don’t let her bring reptiles and rodents or their supplies near her face, or share her food or drink with pets.
    • Make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after touching reptiles or rodents.
    • Children under five years old should not handle reptiles or rodents.
  • Do not clean or bathe reptiles or rodents in the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub.
  • Do not keep reptile or rodent food in the kitchen or in rooms where people eat or drink.
  • Keep reptiles and rodents and all their food, containers, enclosures, and any items that were in their enclosures, such as: E.g. plants or objects of activity, away from the kitchen and other places where food is prepared or eaten.
  • Do not store frozen rodents in the same refrigerator or freezer as human food.
  • Freezing rodents does not kill salmonella.
  • Always thaw frozen rodents outside the kitchen and prepare them using special utensils and containers
  • Be aware of your reptile’s specific needs. Stress can increase the shedding of salmonella in a reptile.
  • Always keep reptiles and live rodents in designated habitats.
  • If you decide to keep a reptile or rodent in your home, talk to your doctor or veterinarian about the right reptile or rodent for your family, especially if your family includes children under 5 years old, pregnant people, people with weakened immune systems or adults include 65 years and older

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

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