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Prevalence of Salmonella spp., and serovars isolated from captive exotic reptiles in New Zealand


AIM: To investigate the prevalence of Salmonella spp. in captive exotic reptile species in New Zealand, and identify the serovars isolated from this population. METHODS: Cloacal swabs were obtained from 378 captive exotic reptiles, representing 24 species, residing in 25 collections throughout New Zealand between 2008 and 2009. Samples were cultured for Salmonella spp., and suspected colonies were serotyped by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR). RESULTS: Forty-three of the 378 (11.4%) reptiles sampled tested positive for Salmonella spp., with 95% CI for the estimated true prevalence being 12–25% in exotic reptiles in this study population. Lizards tested positive for Salmonella spp. more often than chelonians. Agamid lizards tested positive more often than any other family group, with 95% CI for the estimated true prevalence being 56–100%.. Six Salmonella serovars from subspecies I and two from subspecies II were isolated. The serovar most commonly isolated was S. Onderstepoort (30.2%), followed by S. Thompson (20.9%), S. Potsdam (14%), S. Wangata (14%), S. Infantis (11.6%) and S. Eastbourne (2.3%). All of the subspecies I serovars have been previously reported in both reptiles and humans in New Zealand, and include serovars previously associated with disease in humans. CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE: This study showed that Salmonella spp. were commonly carried by exotic reptiles in the study population in New Zealand. Several serovars of Salmonella spp. with known pathogenicity to humans were isolated, including S. Infantis, which is one of the most common serovars isolated from both humans and non-human sources in New Zealand. The limitations of this study included the bias engendered by the need for voluntary involvement in the study, and the non-random sampling design. Based on the serovars identified in this and previous studies, it is recommended native and exotic reptiles be segregated within collections, especially when native reptiles may be used for biodiversity restoration. Veterinarians and reptile keepers are advised to follow hygiene protocols developed to minimise reptile-associated salmonellosis.

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