Pet Lizards Believed to Be Cause of Salmonella Outbreak Across 25 States: CDC

A salmonella outbreak in 25 states is believed to have been caused by contact with pet bearded dragons, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC announced on Tuesday that it was launching an investigation into the recent salmonella outbreak that, according to the CDC, has infected at least 44 people with salmonella.

"The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for salmonella," the CDC said.

The CDC said that cases of salmonella across the 25 states were first reported in early November and have continued to spread over the past few months. During interviews with those infected with the illness, state and local public health officials discovered that 64 percent said they either owned a pet bearded dragon or recently touched one of the lizards or supplies or other things that have come in contact with the animals.

According to the CDC, health officials across the nation have used the PulseNet system, which takes DNA fingerprinting of the salmonella bacteria using a method called whole-genome sequencing (WGS).

"WGS showed that bacteria from sick people's samples are closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak likely became sick from contact with the same type of animal," the CDC said.

Health officials in Oregon used the WGS method on a pet bearded dragon that was living at a person's home who was infected with salmonella on November 19. According to the CDC, the WGS method alerted health officials that the salmonella bacteria on the pet bearded dragon "is closely related to bacteria from sick people," indicating that this person likely became infected with the illness after touching the pet lizard.

"You can get sick from touching your bearded dragon or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth and swallowing salmonella germs," the CDC said

According to the CDC, symptoms of salmonella include fever, stomach cramps and diarrhea, and those infected with the illness usually begin experiencing these symptoms six hours to six days after swallowing the bacteria. People younger than 5 years old or older than 65, as well as those with already weakened immune systems, "may experience more severe illnesses that require medical treatment or hospitalization," the CDC said.

The CDC included several ways to avoid becoming infected with salmonella if you own a bearded dragon, which includes washing your hands frequently, keeping the lizard out of the kitchen, cleaning its supplies and environment daily and also avoiding eating or drinking around it.

"Don't kiss or snuggle your bearded dragon," the CDC said as one of the additional ways to avoid catching the illness.

Newsweek reached out to the CDC for further comment on the investigation but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Bearded Dragon
The CDC is currently investigating a salmonella outbreak that is believed to be caused by pet bearded dragons. Above, a bearded dragon stands in its tank at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) reptile rescue center on May 29, 2015 in Brighton, England. Carl Court/Getty