Ticks and Mites
Ticks may cross over to
other species resulting in the discomfort of bites, but their real
significance is more in the transmission of disease than in any
pathogenicity in and of themselves.
native to the United States and Mexico may transmit "relapsing
fever" or borreliosis and leptospirosis pomona. Ixodes
pacificus in the Pacific coastal region can transmit tularemia and Lyme
Mites, also known as
chiggers, cause a dermatitis more often than any other problem and
probably are not a valid vector of zoonoses. However, if numerous,
mites can debilitate their host. Ophionyssus natrices, the snake
mite, has been known to transfer bacteria from snake to snake,
particularly the Aeromonas organism. No cases of human transmission
are currently noted.
Olive oil. Coast
the reptile, being careful to avoid the nasal passages. The
following day wash the reptile thoroughly with a mild soap such as
Betadine scrub and rinse well. You must treat the environment at
the same time.
Sevin Dust 5%.
Dust the cage lightly while the reptile is out of it. Replace
the reptile in the cage for 24 hours. Then, remove and bathe the
reptile as above and thoroughly wash out the cage. This is used
extensively on snakes but not lizards or turtles.
cannot be used in Indigo snakes or with any of the Chelonians.
Inject others with 0.2 mg/kg intramuscularly (IM). Repeat in 14
Add 0.5 ml of 10% Ivermectin to 1 quart of water. Spray down the
reptile and the cage with this solution. Wash out 15 minutes
later. This solution is relatively unstable so use it
immediately then discard appropriately. Remember that this
product is lethal to Chelonians and Indigos. This is suggested
for very debilitated reptiles (except turtles) because of its safety
spray. Labeled for puppies and kittens. Apply with a paper
towel to reptile once a week for 2 to 3 weeks. If cage treatment
is needed, spray down cage. Leave for 10 to 15 minutes.
Wash out thoroughly. This spray can also be used on Chelonia.
6mm/10 cubic feet of cage. Hang above cage for 4 days.
These strips were used in the past but all current references list
them as potentially toxic. If used improperly, vapona strips
have been known to cause fatalities. This author does not know
of any reptile vets who have used this product for several years.
New from Pro Products. A federally approved treatment and
prevention. Lasts 30 days. Excellent results and currently
the best treatment available.
For those of us for whom the
human-animal bond is part of our existence, our desire to help sick
animals should not be overshadowed by the fear of zoonoses. Those of
us who rehabilitate and/or own reptiles, should take it upon ourselves to
become informed of the potential for zoonoses and means to avoid
them. It is well worth the time to accomplish this by consulting
with a physician and with the veterinarian who will treat these reptiles.
Areas that should be
discussed include the origin of the animal, basic care and husbandry,
sanitation requirements, possible food sources, human contact and the risk
of exposure to other animals. Much literature has been published
recently regarding these issues. Check with your local or regional
herpetological societies, library, Internet and other rehabilitators who
People who are at primary
risk are those who are immunocompromised or immunosupressed and
children under ten years of age, as well as the elderly. For people
who fall into these categories, I strongly suggest conferring with a
primary health care physician prior to handling any reptiles.
Depending on the circumstances, it may be best for people in these
categories to avoid reptiles altogether.
The transmission of zoonoses
in reptiles is from two major routes: the fecal-oral route or the
tactile-oral route which is the most common. If there is contact
with the animal, its wounds or its immediate environment (i.e. water
bowls, substrate, cage furniture) a disease may be directly transferred by
rubbing one's eyes, smoking a cigarette or scratching one's face before
washing one's hands. Washing the food and water bowls in the sink
that is used for the household as well as allowing the animal free range
within the facility will also result in disease transmission.
A secondary route of
transmission is from bites and scratches that are exposed to reptilian
fecal material and/or saliva. The flora of a reptile's oral cavity
is very different from that of mammals and can be pathogenic in
nature. Any bite or scratch should be thoroughly washed with
antibacterial soap or Betadine/Chlorohexidine surgical scrub. If a
serious wound or infection occurs, a physician should be consulted
immediately to obtain appropriate antibiotic therapy.
Following is a list of major
zoonoses of reptiles. This is not complete and it is highly
recommended that rehabilitators further educate themselves about this
issue if they plan to rehabilitate reptiles. I would like to stress
that although the zoonotic potential of these animals should not be taken
lightly, if the guidelines of sanitation are followed and one is not
immunocompromised, very young or elderly, there is no need to panic over
issues such as the current Salmonella scare. Many thousands of
households have resident reptiles throughout the country and the actual
incidence of zoonoses is quite small.
Fungi are ubiquitous in
the environment and can also sometimes be found in the gastrointestinal
tract, the skin, oral cavity of nasal cavity of reptiles.
Transmission can occur through the inhalation of spores, ingestion or
through the inoculation of wounds. Numerous fungal species can be
involved including Mucor, Rhizopus, Candida, Trichosporon, Trichophyton,
Aspergillus, Basidioholus and Geotrichum. Superficial or oral
mycoses can often be noted by observing shite plaques in the oral cavity
or darkening to black skin lesions on the integument.
Commonly seen mycoses are
superficial, noted as the above mentioned blackened areas on the skin,
raised plaques or thickened grayish dry shin anywhere on the body.
Oral lesions of Candida appear as whitish plaques. Internal
mycoses may not be as apparent. Although this poses a zoonotic
risk, few have been documented.
Reptiles can be a
reservoir of Western Equine Encephalitis. The mechanism and
zoonotic potential of this are not clear at this time.
Primarily parasites of reptilian respiratory systems. Humans can
serve as incidental hosts of Pentastomes, usually becoming infected by
the ingestion of feces, saliva or body secretions that have eggs present
and are picked up either by direct contact or through contaminated water
or plant material. Another route of transmission is by eating
infected, uncooked reptile meat. This is often asymptomatic but
local inflammatory reactions or septicemia is possible with the larval
and encysted forms. There is no known treatment for the larval
forms at the present time.
A coccidian parasite, Cryptosporidia may be found in many species of
animals and can be pathogenic to reptiles causing regurgitation in
snakes, weight loss, mid-body swelling and gastrointestinal signs.
The reptile form, C. serpentis has not been documented to have zoonotic
Most reptilian protozoans
are host-specific, and due to the lowered body temperature of these
animals, the transmission to humans is unlikely, although little is
known about their significance. These may include Giardia which
can be found in many species of animals but has never been documented in
a reptile to human zoonotic case.
Note: Many bacteria
are either part of the normal flora in reptiles, or are found in healthy
reptiles without causing disease. Direct contact is required for
transmission of these bacteria.
An enteric bacteria that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and other
gastroenteritis in humans and animals, but can be found in reptiles
without causing problems.
common bacteria found in healthy reptiles, that is also known to cause
disease to them. This is a common bacteria also found in lakes,
ponds and other bodies of water. Humans can come in contact with
this, either directly from the reptile and its bites or scratches, or
from the water source.
These organisms have been
diagnosed as pathogens in human genitourinary infections.
This can cause diarrhea in humans.
This can cause purulent infections in humans. This organism is
fairly common in the oral cavities of reptiles and can be transmitted
through contamination of wounds.
Several species can cause disease in humans. This is usually a
cutaneous or subcutaneous nodular disease. It can come from
chronically infected reptiles and may involve any organ, system or area
Q fever, (Coxiellaa
burnetti): This is a rickettsial organism transmitted to
humans from reptiles by tick bites from reptiles which may serve as a
reservoir. Transmission is thought to occur by direct contact,
tick bite or inhalation.
Severe clinical signs of cramps, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and fever
are reported with some individuals requiring hospitalization.
Young, elderly or immunocompromised individuals may have more serious
This organism can become
established on endocardial surfaces of the heart valves from previous
septicemic episodes which can lead to infective thromboemboli.
They, in turn, cana break loose and end up in other places in the body,
appearing as abscesses in organs, joints or skin. It is important
to consider this organism whenever confronted by an infective-appearing
disease in reptiles handled. Sanitation principles should be
applies, and concerns should be discussed with a veterinarian and a
physician. Salmonella is a problem because of a number of factors:
first, its viability - it can survive in a dirty water bowl for 3
months, for 4 months in soil and 90 days in tap water. Secondly,
it has been proven that latent Salmonella infections, can become active
when the immune system becomes compromised. This organism can be
found in food and water sources that are used for animals. Lastly,
because of its potential intermittent shedding and latency, it cannot be
definitively concluded that a reptile does not harbor this
organism. Before one should panic however, one should remember
that the incidence of Salmonella from poultry is many times higher than
that of reptile-associated Salmonella.
The best defense in
applying the principles of sanitation and perfecting the routine, so
that exposure is limited while still enjoying the animal.
Barnard, S.M. 1996.
Reptile Keepers Handbook. Malabar, FL: Kreiger Publishing Pp 51-54.
Barrett, B., Khurana.
1992. Iguana Associated Salmonellosis. Association of Reptilian and
Amphibian Veterinarians. Volume 3, #1.
Bodri, M. 1996.
Symposium of The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians.
Common Parasitic Diseases of Reptiles and Amphibians.
Frye, F. 1991. Reptile
Care. Chapter 8. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publication. Pp. 281-313.
Frye, F.L. 1995.
Salmonellosis in Pet Reptiles and their Owners. Reptiles Magazine.
Volume 3, #1.
Fudge, A. 1996. Seminars
in Avian and Exotic Pet Medicine. Volume 5, #2.
Harkewicz, K. 1996.
Avian and Exotic Animal Medicine Symposium. Snakes: Physical
Examination and Diagnosis of Their Common Diseases. University of
Hendrix, C.M. Reptilian
Pentastomiasis - a Possible Emerging Zoonosis. Compendium on
Continuing Education. Volume 10, #1.
Johnson, C.D., DVM.
1995. Potential Zoonoses from Nontraditional Pets with Particular
Attention to the Immunosuppresed Pet Owner. Journal of Small Exotic
Animal Medicine. Volume 2, #3. Orlando, FL.
Kirk, R. 1992. Current
Veterinary Therapy XI. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders.
Lanser, M.S., P.Newcomb
- Cayman, C.R. Nichols. 1992. Lizard Associated Salmonellosis.
Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians. Volume 3, #1.
Levell, J.P. 1992.
Bulletin of Chicago Herpetological Society. Eradicating Snake Mites: a
Brief History with Report of Another Method. 27(10):205-206.
Mader, D.R. 1994.
Salmonella. Reptiles Magazine. Volume 1, #5.