Pet reptiles as potential reservoir of Campylobacter species with zoonotic potential

Risks to vulnerable humans from keeping reptiles as pets

Source: Giacomelli, M., and Piccirillo A.
Veterinary Record vol 174 no 19, May 2014 p479

Campylobacters are a common type of bacteria which are commonly found in many animals which may have no symptoms of illness. However, there are different species of Campylobacter, some of which can cause particular problems for humans. Campylobacter infections may result in gastroenteritis, and in wound infections and can even cause abortions in sheep. People with pets may be more at risk from infection, and this can apply especially to reptiles, so a study was carried out to assess how common this infection is in a sample of reptiles from a zoo and private homes in Veneto, Northern Italy. Researchers collected 109 cloacal swabs from 49 chelonians, 15 lizards and 45 snakes. Eight of the reptiles, or 7.3%, tested positive for Campylobacter: five chelonians and three lizards. None of the snakes was found to be infected.

Infection appears to be more common in captive than wild reptiles, and one reason may be that captive animals could be given contaminated meat to eat. Pet reptiles are becoming increasingly popular, which could bring dangers to humans. This study points to risks to vulnerable people, including children, elderly people, those with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women, from keeping reptiles as pets.