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Salmonella Infection From a Pet Snake

Blood Donor Passes Bacteria Gained From Boa Constrictor; 1 Recipient Dies

WebMD Health News

Oct. 2, 2002 -- Having a pet snake or other reptile at home may make you an unwitting carrier of the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria. At least two people became infected with the bacteria -- killing one -- after receiving donated blood platelets from a man whose pet boa constrictor was infected with salmonella.

Platelets are the smallest type of blood particle, and platelet transfusions are used to treat a variety of illnesses and injuries. The procedure carries a high risk of infection, but infection with salmonella from donated platelets is extremely rare. Researchers say only two cases of salmonella infection have been traced back to platelet transfusions.

But a new report published in the Oct. 3 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine describes two recent cases in which patients were infected with the dangerous bacteria from a single platelet donor. Both patients developed serious illnesses and one died as a result of complications from the infection.

The donor was a 47-year-old man who was healthy and had no symptoms of illness when he donated the platelets at the Oklahoma Blood Institute in April 2001. His donation was divided into two units, which were given separately days later to one patient in Tulsa and one in Oklahoma City.

Direct contact with an infected reptile is not necessary to acquire salmonella; anyone in the same house can be infected. According to researchers, up to 3% of American households have a pet reptile, and these reptiles may account for as many as 3% to 18% of the estimated 1.4 million salmonella infections that occur annually in the U.S.

Those estimates suggest that reptile-associated infection may pose an unrecognized risk of contamination of platelets from seemingly healthy donors. The study authors say this especially important because more efficient platelet-collection techniques now allow donors to donate enough platelets for use in more than one patient, increasing the risk of infection in multiple recipients.

Study author Mehrdad Jafari, MD, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and colleagues say anticipated changes in how platelets are screened and used will help reduce the risk of infection. They recommend routine testing for the bacteria to identify contaminated units and assessing the value of questioning donors about whether they have pet reptiles.

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