'Never kiss a pet rodent': Salmonella outbreak prompts warning about rats, snakes
A woman holds a pet rat in her hand in this March 2010 file image. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
VANCOUVER -- Health officials are warning the public about an outbreak of salmonella infections that's believed to have been caused by close contact with snakes and rats.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said there were 92 confirmed cases of salmonellosis – which can cause fever, chills, diarrhea, cramps, headaches and vomiting – recorded across six provinces between April 2017 and October 2019.
Just four of the cases were in British Columbia, while the majority – 52 – were recorded in Quebec.
Health officials are continuing to investigate the outbreak, but said the preliminary findings suggest exposure to snakes and rodents is the likely source.
"Many of the individuals who became sick reported having direct or indirect contact with snakes, pet rats and feeder rodents (used as reptile food) before their illnesses occurred," the PHAC said in a public health notice.
Officials said to avoid falling ill, people should practice good hygiene with frequent handwashing – especially if they have a pet snake or rat in the home.
Those pets should not be bathed in kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks or bathtubs, according to a list of recommendations from the PHAC. They should also be kept out of homes, daycare centres, schools or other facilities used by young children.
Officials also stressed that people should "never kiss a pet rodent or reptile" if they don't want to get sick.
The 92 people who have been infected so far range in age from less than one year old to 88, and the majority are female. They tested positive for salmonella typhimurium, a common strain that pops up about 750 times per year on average.
While anyone can get a salmonella infection, officials warn some groups are at higher risk than others, including kids aged five or under, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.