Pictured: Pythons handed to children at Repticon pet expo, Memphis.

Reptiles and Diseases: What You Need to Know

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The US government strongly opposes children under the age of five having contact with reptiles because of the diseases they can carry. Here’s why you should never bring a child to a reptile show.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children under a certain age ride in a rear-facing car seat. Knowing this, it would be irresponsible for car manufacturers to suggest parents let young children sit next to them in the passenger seat, right? 

A similar thing is happening at reptile expos that recently started back up after a brief hiatus during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—the federal government’s health protection agency—has made its position clear: Children younger than five years of age should avoid direct and indirect contact with reptiles. This message is plastered all over the department’s website owing to the threat reptiles pose to the spread of salmonellosis and other infectious zoonotic diseases.  

Reptile-born salmonellosis outbreaks disproportionately affect children. The results of a CDC analysis of an outbreak linked to small turtles in 2015 and 2016 showed that more than 202 people were sickened nationwide. Forty-one percent of the patients were children aged younger than five. Some people in these outbreaks became sick even when they did not touch the turtles but had turtles in their households. In 2011, the CDC investigated an outbreak linked to African dwarf frogs; 241 people were sick, and sixty-nine percent were younger than ten years of age

Given that around half of reptile-born salmonellosis patients in these cases were children, it’s no surprise that the CDC is keen to keep kids away from reptiles.  

However, their message is falling on deaf ears.  

All three of the country’s largest reptile expos specifically state on their websites that children aged four and under are admitted free. 

Repticon 

CBE

 

HERPS 

CBE

 

Cold Blooded Expos 

CBE

It’s like a sick joke! 

The exact demographic that the CDC warns us should be prevented from having access to reptiles is the same as the one being enticed to go to reptile shows for free.  

Venues and health authorities need to do more to enforce CDC guidelines to limit exposure of children to dangerous pathogens.  

Major hotel chains, such as Hilton and Holiday Inn, as well as local government civic centers and civil society groups, play host to these reptile expos several times a year. At the very least, these institutions should be following CDC recommendations (not just when it comes to COVID-19) to help prevent children from getting sick.  

If businesses and local governments won’t turn down venue rental income, it should be up to health officials to make sure that federal advice is followed to prevent a disease outbreak in their jurisdictions. 

If the COVID-19 outbreak has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t always tell where the next big disease outbreak will come from or who it will affect first. Stopping children from having free exposure to potentially harmful zoonotic pathogens, though, seems like common sense.  

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Venues and health authorities need to do more to enforce CDC guidelines to limit exposure of children to dangerous pathogens.