Image: African dwarf water frog
Health officials warn that water frogs are not good pets for young kids, who are vulnerable to salmonella infections.
Image: JoNel Aleccia
By JoNel Aleccia Health writer
updated 4/8/2011 1:58:16 PM ET 2011-04-08T17:58:16

At least 217 people, mostly young children, have been sickened by salmonella spread by pet African dwarf water frogs, government health officials said.

A single California breeder of the frogs has been identified as the source of infections caused by Salmonella Typhimurium confirmed in 41 states since April 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday. Investigators visited the breeder in March and confirmed the presence of salmonella in the environment; tests are continuing to see if it matches the outbreak strain.

Infections have been detected in people ages less than 1 to 73; the median age of infection is 5. More than 70 percent of patients have been younger than 10, officials said, and about a third of those who became ill were hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

In interviews, ill people reported contact with the frogs in the days before they became sick. Of those who could identify the type of frog, 84 percent cited African dwarf frogs, the CDC said. The media time from acquiring a frog to becoming ill was 15 days, with a range of a week to eight months.

Symptoms of salmonella infection have included diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps, with some becoming ill enough to require hospitalization.

The breeding center in California was first identified as the source of infections in people in 2010, CDC officials said. Water frogs are often kept in home aquariums and fish tanks.

Frogs aren't good pets for young kids
Children younger than 5 are among those at highest risk for salmonella infections and CDC officials warn that water frogs are not appropriate pets for kids that young. Officials say the frogs should be kept out of homes with young children, children's care centers, hospitals and nursing homes.

Health officials warn that salmonella infections can be spread not only by water frogs, but by other amphibians and reptiles, such as turtles. People should wash hands thoroughly after handling the animals and anything that comes in contact with their habitat.

Kitchen sinks should not be used to empty or wash the frogs' habitat, such as aquarium or fish tank, because of the risk of spreading salmonella to food. If possible, cleaning should be done outside, using disposable gloves. Young children should not be allowed to clean the creatures' tanks or bowls.

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