SALMONELLA A HOLIDAY GIFT?
With the holiday season come increased travel and more frequent gatherings of friends and relatives. Hence, our chances of exposure to contagious ailments also go up. Another holiday consideration is that unusual pets sometimes serve as holiday gifts, and I recently received a question about the chances of disease transmittal from other animals to us. The query harkened me back to responses I have given to similar questions in the past.
Q. What is
salmonella? Can you get it from other animals?
Q. How big
is the risk when keeping reptiles in the home with young children?
Q. What is
the threat of salmonella from a wild reptile?
In my opinion, the risk of salmonellosis in most instances is too small to warrant concern about keeping or picking up reptiles. I have spent my life, from age 10 or so, handling reptiles of all sorts, both captive and in the wild, and have never been afflicted by salmonella. My students and I have handled more than 60,000 turtles and snakes over the past 30 years. No one has contracted salmonellosis from the animals, presumably because of a combination of relatively low risk and following proper health and safety protocols.
I am opposed to the sky-is-falling approach of many government regulatory programs to most of life's risks. Therefore I do not support an attitude that reptiles or other animals are to be feared more than they are to be respected and appreciated. This includes any risk of their having salmonella. My general attitude about dealing with biological problems such as the threat of salmonella is like my attitude toward irrational fears of venomous snakes, stingrays, killer bees, or grizzly bears. All of them can hurt you. Few, vanishingly few, ever do.
A much greater
threat to society is the impact on environmental education that could
come from people who emphasize something bad that "could" happen
instead of the low-risk probabilities of what is likely to happen. The
best approach is to encourage people to enjoy nature and the many fascinating,
exciting, and intriguing plants and animals that live in the world rather
than trying to override their enjoyment with unnecessary fears and regulations.
People should be educated about potential hazards and precautions, such
as always washing your hands after handling an animal, but then be allowed
to make their own choices about which risks to take for themselves or