African dwarf frogs live completely in water and are sold in stores nationwide for aquariums; they are also sometimes given away as carnival prizes. Frogs and other amphibians are known carriers of salmonella bacteria, which can cause potentially serious infections in the very young, the elderly or those with weakened immune systems. Even normally healthy people sickened with salmonella can suffer from diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.
Since the aquarium frogs usually live at the bottom of their habitat, the CDC said the most likely source for those sickened with the salmonella typhimurium bacterium was the aquarium water itself. This particular strain of salmonella is one of the most common in the United States, and the agency has been tracking this outbreak since 2009.As of this week, 216 people have been sickened by the same strain of salmonella, which the CDC has tracked back to a single frog breeder in California (The agency did not release the name of the breeder.). Those who have become ill range in age from 1 year to 67 years old, with 71% younger than 10 years old; the median age is 5. A total of 30% of those sickened had to be hospitalized. States with the largest numbers of illnesses were Washington with 22; Utah with 18; California with 17; and Pennsylvania with 14.
The CDC gave the following advice to consumers to help protect against a salmonella infection:
- Water frogs are not an appropriate pet for children under 5 years old because of the salmonella risk.
- People at highest risk for serious salmonella infections should avoid contact with water frogs and anything that comes in contact with these frogs.
- Keep any habitat with water frogs out of a child's bedroom.
- Treat all surfaces that the water frogs have come in contact with as if they are contaminated with salmonella bacteria, because there is a good chance they are.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after handling anything that comes in contact with water frogs.
- Kitchen sinks should not be used to empty or wash the frog's habitat.
- Salmonella infections can also be caused by other amphibians and reptiles such as turtles.
The CDC offers a series of pod casts on salmonella and water frogs, including one designed for children.
The CDC also has ongoing investigations into multistate salmonella outbreaks linked to turkey burgers and cantaloupes.