When Jody Nobles’ four-week old daughter, Lilly, had a high fever, little did she know what caused her daughter to be so sick. After failed attempts to lower her daughter’s fever at home, she contacted her pediatrician and they recommended that she go to the emergency room for treatment.
Ms. Nobles brought her daughter to the pediatric emergency department at Baptist Children’s Hospital , and the staff quickly began running tests to find out what was causing the fever. Little Lilly spent 24 hours in ICU because her fever wouldn’t break, and in the meantime, her test results were completed.
The cause of her fever: A Salmonella infection. How did she contract it? She got the bacteria from the family pet lizard, a bearded dragon.
Ms. Nobles did the standard research when they purchased the pet on how to take care of it and what type of climate is needed to keep it alive. But she had no idea that it could make her child so sick. In fact, it was so serious that the doctors explained to her that salmonella at her daughter’s age could potentially be a life-threatening illness.
(Video: The Baptist Health News Team hears from Jody Nobles, the patient’s mother, and Ricardo Queiro, M.D., about the hidden danger of pet reptiles). Video by Steve Pipho.)
“When the doctors explained to me how bad this actually could have gotten — that it is life threatening, that she could have passed away — that thought was just dreadful. It set this fear in me because I had no idea it could get that bad,” Ms. Nobles said.
Pediatric intensivist, Ricardo Queiro, M.D.  with Baptist Children’s Hospital , says: “We need to be careful with pets, especially reptiles, any kind of birds and turtles when you are below one-year of age. They are susceptible to catching the disease.” This is because their immune systems are still maturing and unable to fight off certain diseases, Dr. Queiro said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control  (CDC), one of the most common germs carried by reptiles and amphibians is Salmonella. The CDC also reports that “approximately 74,000 people in the U.S. acquire Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians each year.” Children under 5 years of age, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems have the highest risk of severe infection. In fact, nearly 400 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from Salmonella infections, the CDC says.
Some of the symptoms of salmonella include:
- High fever
- Blood in the stool
- Abdominal pain
Safe Handling Tips
The CDC provides these safe-handling tips for pet reptiles and Amphibians:
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
- If soap and water are not readily available use a hand sanitizer.
- Keep reptiles and amphibians out of childcare centers, kitchens or other food preparation areas.
- Do not let children under 5 handle or touch reptiles or amphibians without supervision.
- Do not keep terrariums in the children’s bedrooms.
- Do not clean their tanks in the kitchen or wherever there is food preparation.
In the case of little Lilly, Dr. Queiro says they were “lucky to find the diagnosis and treat the patient right away.”
Ms. Nobles advice to other parents: “If you are considering purchasing a pet reptile or anything like that, do research into what bacteria they have on them, if any, as opposed to just searching how to keep them alive, what habitat to create for them.” She also recommends waiting until kids are older before adopting a reptile pet.