The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is investigating an outbreak of salmonella in Alberta and seven other provinces that is linked to snakes and feeder rodents. 

As of March 19, there are 70 confirmed cases of salmonella in Canada, with 10 of those cases in Alberta and the rest in British Columbia (3), Saskatchewan (7), Manitoba (3), Ontario (32), Quebec (11), New Brunswick (1), and Newfoundland and Labrador (3). 

“Many of the individuals who became sick reported direct or indirect contact with snakes and feeder rodents before their illness occurred. Some people who became sick did not touch or handle the snakes or feeder rodents themselves, but lived in the same house where they were kept,” PHAC said. 

So far, a single common supplier of snakes or feeder rodents has not been identified, according to PHAC. 

The investigation revealed that individuals became sick between February 2022 and February 2024. 

PHAC and their provincial public health partners have confirmed that ten people have been hospitalized and one person has died due to salmonella. 

The individuals who became ill are between the ages of 0-96 years old, and 13 percent of the cases are in children aged 5 and younger. 

According to PHAC, you can get sick with salmonella if you touch your face, eyes, or mouth without washing your hands after touching reptiles and rodents, as well as their food and environments. 

“You can also get sick by touching contaminated surfaces or objects in a home or exhibit where snakes and feeder rodents are kept. This can occur at birthday parties, school or daycare events, museums, science centres, zoos, or at a travelling reptile show.” 

The best way to prevent illness, as advised by PHAC, is to practice good handwashing hygiene and frequent handwashing after contact with snakes, feeder rodents, and their environments. 

“This advice is based on the findings from this investigation and past outbreaks of salmonella illnesses linked to snakes and rodents that highlighted the important role reptile owners and business operators can play in preventing new illnesses linked to these types of pets.” 

Symptoms of salmonella typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure and will usually last 4–7 days. 

Symptoms include: 

  • Fever 
  • Chills 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Headache 
  • Abdominal cramps 

If you have any of these symptoms and suspect salmonella, it is encouraged that you contact a health care provider as soon as possible. 

People infected with Salmonella can spread it to other people within several days to several weeks after they have become infected, even without symptoms. 

“Most people who become ill from salmonella will recover fully after a few days without treatment, but it can also cause severe illness and hospitalization.” 

Those who are at a higher risk for complications from the illness include: 

  • Seniors 
  • Young children 
  • People with compromised immune systems 
  • Pregnant people 

According to PHAC, there are ways to prevent the direct and indirect spread of salmonella, including: 

  • Thorough hand washing after touching reptiles and rodents 
  • Cleaning and disinfecting any surfaces where reptiles or rodents come into contact with 
  • Not allowing children under 5 to handle reptiles or rodents 
  • Keep the closures and any items in them away from the kitchen and areas where you eat food
  • Clean or bathe reptiles in a dedicated bin, not a kitchen or bathroom sink 
  • Avoid washing enclosures in the kitchen sink; try to wash in a laundry sink or bathtub and sanitize after 
  • Freezing rodents does not kill salmonella, so do not keep frozen feeding rodents in the same freezer as where you store human food 
  • Defrost and prepare frozen rodents outside of the kitchen  

“The outbreak is ongoing, and recent illnesses continue to be reported to PHAC. This public health notice will be updated as the investigation evolves.” 

If you do choose to have a reptile or rodent as a pet, PHAC encourages you to talk to your health care provider or veterinarian, especially if your family includes children under 5, seniors, pregnant people, or immunocompromised people. 

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