Zoonotic Diseases in Reptiles

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Zoonotic diseases are diseases that can be passed from animals to humans. Reptiles carry a number of infectious diseases that can cause serious illness in people who handle or care for them.

Although the idea of catching a zoonotic disease is frightening, the risk is relatively small if pet owners take basic hygiene precautions.


According to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 70,000 people every year develop a disease called salmonellosis from handling reptiles. The website explains that the symptoms of salmonellosis are stomach pains, fever, and diarrhoea. The symptoms usually clear up in a few days without the need for treatment, but sometimes the symptoms are severe enough to require medical intervention. To prevent this disease, keep the reptile in an enclosure. Wash hands thoroughly after handling the animal or after cleaning its cage or food bowls. In addition, do not wash pet enclosures, food or water dishes in the kitchen. Finally, the website advises monitoring children around reptiles. Small children should not kiss reptiles or place them close to their mouths.

Pentastomid Worms

Pentastomid worms are found in many different species of turtles, lizards and snakes, according to the Exotic Pet Vet website. The worms live in their lungs and nasal passages. Reptiles cough up the eggs and then swallow them, where they are passed out of the body in the stool. A reptile can spread millions of eggs around its enclosure this way. A pet owner who washes the enclosure in the kitchen sink runs a serious risk of contaminating dishes or food and accidentally swallowing some of these microscopic eggs. The eggs hatch in the body and become larvae. The web site explains that the larvae penetrate through human intestines and travel through the bloodstream, finding new homes in the liver, lungs or lymph nodes of their new host. The worms do not respond to medication and must be surgically removed. Prevent pentastomid worm infections by washing hands thoroughly after handling the pet or cleaning its cage. Most importantly, keep the pet's cage or aquarium out of the kitchen.


The campylobacter bacteria lives in the faeces of infected reptiles. It can also be found in foods that became contaminated during processing or cooking. According to the Seattle and King Country Public Health website, this disease can be passed by handling sick or infected animals or by coming in contact with their stool. Some of the symptoms of campylobacter include diarrhoea and vomiting, stomach pains, fever and sometimes convulsions. The symptoms usually clear up in about 10 days without treatment. Antibiotics are prescribed for severe cases. The disease is prevented by washing hands thoroughly after handling reptiles or cleaning their enclosures.