CDC warns Georgia’s exotic pet owners about latest Salmonella outbreak

A Salmonella outbreak has spread across 18% of the United States — including one case in Georgia — and the infectious bacteria has been linked to an exotic pet.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning Friday following 15 reports of Salmonella illnesses from bearded dragons. Four people have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

“This outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses, and the true number of sick people is likely much higher than the number reported,” according to the CDC. “This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella.”

The CDC warned bearded dragons are not recommended as pets for children younger than 5, who accounted for 60% of the illnesses. Older adults (65 or older) and people with weakened immune systems should also avoid keeping the reptiles, which can carry Salmonella in their droppings.

Because you can also contract the illness simply by touching the creatures or anything in their environments, the CDC said pet owners should always wash their hands after making contact. One illness has been reported in the Peach State, but most have been in New York (4). However, cases have been found as far as California — which has two illnesses.

Salmonella infects an estimated 1.35 million people in the U.S. each year, leading to 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths. Food is the most common source of the illness, while up to 6% of cases across North America and Europe are caused by reptiles.

The most common symptoms caused by the bacteria — including diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps — begin anywhere from six hours to six days after infection. The CDC provides detailed information on how to stay healthy while owning a reptile or amphibian pet.