Aquariums can breed salmonella

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: July 5th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

In the popular film “Finding Nemo,” a group of fish hope the dirtying of their aquarium will lead to an emergency cleaning by their captor… and sudden freedom for the protagonist, Nemo. Now research shows that cleaning the fish tank or even mishandling items from home aquariums can lead to something far worse than an escaped fish: Salmonella poisoning.

In a recent edition of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, Australian scientists report that a seldom-seen strain of salmonella can lurk in the water and on the bottom pebbles in fish tanks. Documented cases of the bacterial infection were serious enough to send kids to the emergency room with high fever and severe intestinal distress. And the strain of salmonella seen was resistant to multiple drugs… making it harder to fight.

Although the possibility of contracting salmonella from pets such as lizards and ducklings has been acknowledged for some time, this is believed to be the first time the danger has been pinpointed in the aquarium world. More than ten percent of Australian households and as many as fourteen million American families have ornamental fish tanks.

The scientists say the large numbers of owners and the fact that youngsters often care for them make the salmonella risk a public health issue. Doctors say having pet fish is generally very safe. But homeowners cleaning their tanks should always avoid touching their hands to their mouth, eyes or nose, until they’ve finished the job and have thoroughly washed their hands.