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18 confirmed salmonella cases linked to geckos reported in Ontario

Ontario has 18 confirmed cases of salmonella infections linked to exposure to geckos, the federal public health agency says.

In a notice issued on Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said it was investigating an outbreak of “Salmonella lome” illness after 35 cases have been reported in seven provinces so far.

“Based on investigation findings to date, exposure to geckos has been identified as a likely source of the outbreak. Many of the individuals who became sick reported having direct or indirect contact with geckos, or the environments where these pets are kept, before their illnesses occurred,” the public health notice reads.

Ontario has the most cases, followed by Quebec with eight. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba each have two cases, while New Brunswick has reported one case.

PHAC said the individuals became sick between March 2020 and January 2024 and five of them have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported in relation to the outbreak.

Of the cases, seven are children five years of age or younger.

“Using a laboratory method called whole genome sequencing, it was determined that some salmonella illnesses dating back to 2020 were caused by the same outbreak strain as the illnesses that occurred in 2024,” the agency said.

PHAC noted that some of the people who have been infected did not touch or handle the geckos but lived in the same residence where they were kept.

“Salmonella with the same outbreak strain was found in a gecko habitat from the home of an ill individual,” the health agency said.

“These outbreaks highlight the important role that reptile owners and business operators can play in preventing new illnesses linked to these types of pets.”

According to PHAC, most reptiles carry salmonella naturally in their intestinal guts, where it lives without making them sick. That’s why it says reptiles could pass the bacteria from their droppings into their environments, contaminating their bodies, enclosures, and wherever they roam.

PHAC said symptoms usually start six to 72 hours after exposure and could last for four to seven days. They include fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, and abdominal cramps. While most cases will fully recover after a few days without treatment, the agency warned that it can also lead to severe illness and hospitalization.

“People who are infected with Salmonella bacteria can spread Salmonella to other people several days to several weeks after they have become infected, even if they don’t have symptoms,” the agency said, adding that the bacteria can spread by person-to-person contact and through contact with contaminated surfaces.

Earlier this week, PHAC also issued a public health notice about a salmonella outbreak connected to snakes and feeder rodents.

As of March 19, 70 confirmed cases of “Salmonella typhimurium” illness have been reported, with 32 in Ontario.

The individuals became sick between Feb. 2022 and Feb. 2024. PHAC said 10 had been hospitalized, and one person had been confirmed to have died because of salmonella.

“A single common supplier of snakes or feeder rodents has not been identified. The outbreak is a reminder that Salmonella bacteria can be found in many species of animals, including snakes and feeder rodents,” PHAC said in its March 19 notice.

Here are some tips from the federal agency on how to prevent direct or indirect spread of salmonella:

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching a reptile and anything they eat, or after being in the area where they live, play or have touched surfaces or objects.
  • If visiting an exhibit or event with reptiles, wash your hands when you leave animal areas, even if you do not touch the animals directly.
  • Clean any surfaces or objects your reptile touches with soapy water, followed by a household sanitizer.
  • Never kiss a pet reptile.
  • Do not keep reptiles in homes, daycare centers, schools, or other facilities with children aged five years and under.
  • Always supervise children when they touch or play with reptiles.
  • Do not let them put reptiles or their supplies near their face, or share their food or drinks with pets.
  •  Make sure they thoroughly wash their hands after touching reptiles.
  • Children five years and under should not handle reptiles.
  • Keep reptiles 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.
  • Where possible, clean enclosures and accessories outside the home. If this is not possible, use a laundry sink or bathtub and thoroughly clean and sanitize afterwards.
  • Clean or bathe reptiles in a dedicated plastic bin, not in the kitchen or bathroom sink.
  • Be aware of your reptile’s specific needs. Stress can increase a reptile’s shedding of Salmonella.
  • Always keep reptiles in habitats specifically designed for them.
  •  If you choose to have a reptile, talk to your healthcare provider or veterinarian about the right reptile for your family, especially if your family includes children five years and younger, pregnant people, immunocompromised individuals, or adults 65 years of age and over.