The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) along with various provincial public health partners is investigating an outbreak of Salmonella infections in eight provinces, including Alberta. The outbreak is linked to snakes and feeder rodents. As of today, there are 10 confirmed cases in Alberta.

"Many individuals who became sick, reported direct or indirect contact with snakes and feeder rodents (used as reptile food) before their illnesses 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 stated.

The collaborative outbreak investigation was initiated last spring because of increased reports of Salmonella illnesses in multiple jurisdictions across Canada. Using a laboratory method called whole genome sequencing, it was determined that some Salmonella illnesses dating back to 2022 were caused by the same outbreak strain as the illnesses that occurred in 2023 and 2024.

"More recent illnesses may be reported in the outbreak because there is a period between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported to public health officials. The illness reporting period for this outbreak is between 4 and 6 weeks."

A single common supplier of snakes or feeder rodents has not been identified. The outbreak is a reminder that Salmonella bacteria can be found in many species of animals, including snakes and feeder rodents. According to PHAC, individuals became sick between February 2022 and February 2024.

"Ten individuals have been hospitalized. One person has died and provincial public health partners have confirmed that Salmonella was the cause of death. Individuals who became ill are between 0 and 96 years of age. Thirteen (19 per cent) cases are in children 5 years of age or younger. Approximately half of the cases (53 per cent) are female."

To prevent illness, individuals are advised to practice good hand 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.

In total, there are 70 confirmed cases in the country, with Ontario having the most at 32. British Columbia is recorded to have three cases, Saskatchewan has seven cases, while Manitoba has also reported three cases. Quebec also has 11 confirmed cases, while New Brunswick has one case, while Newfoundland and Labrador also have three cases. 

Symptoms typically start 6 to 72 hours after exposure to Salmonella bacteria, and usually last for 4-7 days. Symptoms may include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • abdominal cramps

People who are infected with Salmonella bacteria can spread Salmonella to other people several days to several weeks after they have become infected, even if they don't have symptoms. 

"Salmonella can spread by person-to-person contact and contaminated surfaces. Most people who become ill from a Salmonella infection will recover fully after a few days without treatment, but it can also cause severe illness and hospitalization," PHAC added. 

Anyone can become sick with a Salmonella infection. If you think you're experiencing symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. Those at higher risk for serious illness include older adults. young children, people who are pregnant, and people with weakened immune systems

"You can get sick with Salmonella by touching reptiles and rodents, their food, and their environments and then touching your face, eyes, or mouth without washing your hands. 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."

To prevent the direct or indirect spread of Salmonella to others it is advised to always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching a reptile or rodent, and anything they eat, or after being in the area where they live, play or touch. other If visiting an exhibit or event with reptiles or rodents, wash your hands when you leave animal areas, even if you do not touch the animals directly. Other health tips can be found on the Public Health Agency of Canada's website

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