Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Microbe Week: Salmonella.

Again, Salmonella strikes us as a must-cover during Microbe Week. The crazy authoress owns several snakes, and one of the weapons most often swung against them in legislation is that all reptiles bear Salmonella on their skin. This is a load of bull, especially given how ubiquitous Salmonella is.

Salmonella is a genus of Gram-negative, rod-shaped bacteria. They can be found on almost any animal, but only infect humans through other animals. They are typically ingested in contaminated food (which has been around feces or dirty water). The resulting disease, salmonellosis, may result in bloody diarrhea, but otherwise, symptoms are usually mild. Surprise, surprise, the buggers are related to E.coli - another bacterium commonly seen in the news.

The horrible, nasty disease that people worry about with Salmonella is called enteric salmonellosis. The disease hits hard and fast - anywhere from a half a day to a week after encountering the bug. Symptoms include headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and bloody, mucus-filled diarrhea. Most deaths occur in the elderly. Otherwise, it just kinda sucks to have for a while. You'll probably be fine if you're over 40.

Aquatic vertebrates are the main carriers of Salmonella, but this microbe has been found in everything. Mice are just as likely to have Salmonella as chickens and reptiles. Any type of meat could potentially have Salmonella. The last two big outbreaks of Salmonella barely involved animals - even our peanuts and chili peppers aren't safe!


The main culprits for infection are chicken, chicken eggs, and other types of mishandled meat. This comes from how sloppy American meat processing is; stuff is allowed to mix, things are not properly cleaned, and ultimately, it's a huge, feces-filled mess that is the ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Salmonella is also hard to kill, able to endure almost anything but extreme temperatures. If the cause of death was food poisoning and cyanide has been ruled out, Salmonella's your next best guess.

Pet reptiles are far from the leading cause of Salmonella poisoning. The thing that causes 30 Americans to die from Salmonella poisoning every year is chicken. The Salmonella cases that caused the whole reptile scare came from small children putting small turtles in their mouths - admittedly, something that small children are wont to do. They're small children. They put all sorts of weird things in their mouths and have compromised immune systems. Of course they're gonna get sick.

Thanks a lot, kid.

Don't ban reptiles, ban chicken! Let's see how well that flies in Congress, shall we?

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