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Reptiles are truly terrestrial animals that are key not only to individual trophic chains but also to the entire biosphere. Evolutionarily, mammals and birds became descendants of ancient reptiles, therefore there is no doubt about the importance and significance of this class. Human has long been able to domesticate some reptiles such as snakes, turtles, lizards, and even crocodiles. However, the close connection between the pets and the host is fraught with consequences: veterans and physicians around the world are concerned about salmonellosis in reptiles. Due to the growing popularity of reptiles as pets, the risk of salmonellosis is also increasing. In this essay, the task will be to discuss the phenomenon of this disease among reptiles.
Salmonella is a common name for a large family of Gram-negative bacteria, usually living in the gastrointestinal tract. There are many varieties; each of them has a name consisting of two words. In particular, the name of a biological species begins with the word “Salmonella” and ends with a description of the species, such as Salmonella enterica. While some species are a natural part of a reptile’s intestinal flora, others are highly pathogenic: they almost always cause disease. Moreover, those that are dangerous to reptiles can cause zoonotic infections in humans.
It would be incorrect to claim that salmonella infection is not prevalent among reptiles –– the variety of routes of bacterial transmission justifies virulence. In particular, pathways of infection include fecal-oral and transovarial transmission, consumption of contaminated food, and cloacal contamination of eggs. The phenomenon of coprophagia is known to be common among young lizards, eating adult reptile feces. Salmonella may remain viable in the environment for some time, especially in humid areas, which poses an additional threat to reptiles.
All reptile species, including lizards, snakes, iguanas, turtles, and crocodiles can be carriers of salmonella. Nevertheless, a reptile may not suffer from salmonellosis for a long time, but maybe a vector and infect other pets. In addition, in most cases, such microorganisms are simply symbiotes of the gastrointestinal tract, without causing any harm to the host, periodically excreted from the intestines into the external environment, infecting the skin of the reptile and the surrounding world.
However, the situation can be complicated by various factors, which in turn will lead to serious consequences. It is worth noting that the clinical symptoms of reptile salmonellosis are not specific: in the initial stage, the disease in reptiles causes inflammation of the small intestine’s mucous membrane. In this case, there is foamy liquid diarrhea of greenish color, with a characteristic odor. In the late stages of the disease, blood and mucus appear in the feces. Small septic pockets are often formed in the mouth of reptiles. The clinical picture is manifested in the animal’s refusal of food, sharp weight loss, and constant fatigue. Without treatment, the animal soon dies of intoxication and exhaustion. It is also possible that the reptile dies suddenly without any symptoms of salmonellosis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
For salmonellosis studies, samples of reptile feces taken in a sterile container are sent to the veterinary laboratory. Diagnosis of infection is carried out through biological flushing research of cloaca and feces. As a rule, several periodic tests are required in order to minimize the risk of incubation. It is not recommended to treat clinically healthy domestic reptiles in whose feces salmonella has been found, as, for most reptiles, this indicates the carriage of salmonella. Otherwise, the veterinarian prescribes maintenance infusion therapy and antibacterial drugs in combination with anthelminthic agents. Still, it should be remembered that antibiotics, especially when misused, stimulate the development of resistant strains. For this reason, special care should be taken when treating reptiles.
The Threat to Human Health
A person’s susceptibility to virulent strains of salmonella is also not constant and depends on various reasons. Nevertheless, as sources of salmonellosis infection, reptiles are particularly dangerous for children and people with immunodeficiency. This category includes people with AIDS, cancer, renal failure, and chronic liver disease. Older persons with a weakened immune system are also at high risk. In most cases, salmonellosis in humans with reptile strains manifests itself in the intestinal form of moderate severity or the septic form. The disease begins with a high fever, which lasts several days in a wave-like manner. At the beginning of the disease, repeated vomiting, abundant, watery, smelly stools can be noted.
No effective methods have yet been developed to prevent the infection of reptiles with salmonellosis, therefore they all become carriers of salmonella. Strict hygiene and the use of disinfectants to treat reptile cells can significantly decrease the number of bacteria in the environment. To reduce the likelihood of infection, a person should always wash their hands after contact with reptiles. The key to reducing zoonotic transmission can also be the awareness of sellers, owners, and visitors of exhibitions and zoos of the high risk of salmonellosis after contact with reptiles. Other precautions include keeping reptiles away from kitchens and food storage areas or tables where people cook or eat. In addition, a host should not use the same cleaning agents for the kitchen and for cleaning reptile cells.