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Pet bearded dragon culprit behind salmonella outbreak: CDC

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Fond of bearded dragons? Then be careful -- it can infect you with Salmonella Cotham.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that 132 persons from 31 states were infected with Salmonella Cotham strain since February 21, 2012, based on its findings published on April 23, 2014. Of these, 58 percent were children who are five years old or younger and 42 percent of infected persons were already hospitalized. There are no recorded deaths, however.

"We are confident bearded dragons are the source of the outbreak," Casey Barton Behravesh of the CDC said.

The infections were linked to the bearded dragons bought from several stores in various states. Bearded dragons are infamous pet lizards with variety of colors that are native to Australia.

As of April 23, the CDC is said to be in collaboration with various agriculture, veterinary and health officials in several states as well as with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Veterinary Services Laboratories to conduct an investigation on the Salmonella outbreak. They are making use of a PulseNet system that acquires DNA "fingerprints" of the said bacteria to identify the possible cases. PulseNet goes through a diagnostic testing by way of pulsed-field gel electrophoresis.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services notified the CDC on January 22, 2014 of a cluster of infections from Salmonella Cotham, said to be a rare serotype. Based on previous records, the rare strain symbolizes only 0.01 percent of all human quarantines since 1963 in the U.S. Prior to the recent outbreak, PulseNet usually receives fewer than 25 infections yearly. 

The health investigators made use of three types of studies: epidemiologic, laboratory and traceback.

The epidemiologic investigation used a questionnaire sent on March 25, 2014 to the involved states to get further information from the affected persons and their latest contact with reptiles. There were 31 persons who completed the questionnaire, of which 27 confirmed to have interaction with reptiles or their environments before getting sick. Reported to have interacted with lizards were 25 persons, while those who specifically identified the lizards as bearded dragons were 21 persons.

The laboratory investigation, meanwhile, involved the Oregon State Public Health Laboratory that isolated the Salmonella strain from samples taken from a bearded dragon and its home, from that of a sick person's house in Oregon. The human surveillance program of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System looked after the antibiotic resistance in the said strain and many other bacteria that were isolated from the clinical specimens. Tests on antibiotic resistance are ongoing at the laboratory.

By traceback investigation, the CDC and the pet industry are working together closely to establish the exact source of the bearded dragons that are linked to the Salmonella outbreak so as to prevent further infections.

The investigation remains ongoing, and the public will be informed of any update.

The CDC also reminds the public to thoroughly wash hands with water and soap right after interaction with reptiles such as the bearded dragons or with its environment to prevent further Salmonella Cotham infections.

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