When African Dwarf Frogs Attack: Caged Creatures Spread Salmonella in 31 States

photo of african dwarf frog
Credit: CDC.

The African dwarf frog, a tiny little creature that's become a popular aquarium pet in America, is now linked to an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in 31 states. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the outbreak, which sickened 85 people, mostly children, is all linked to one California breeder, according to WebMD. Maybe it's also linked to the idea that we can keep wild animals as pets. Cats and dogs are one thing. But two-inch long amphibians from Africa? Is this frog revenge?There's no evidence of a coordinated uprising, but this is the first known multistate outbreak spread by amphibians.

The CDC says most of the salmonella, which can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps, was spread to people who came into contact with water used by the frogs.

The agency is advising people not to clean their aquariums in the kitchen sink (imagine that) and to wash their hands after playing with the wild creatures who normally live in the Congo region and like to hang out underwater (as in under water in a natural setting, not a glass tank).

Affected states include California, Massachusetts, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Ohio.

A number of National Public Radio readers (online) are chiming in about a possible frog conspiracy, or at least the possibility that keeping wild animals in cages for fun isn't the best way to stay healthy.

"They aren't really 'wildlife' actually, at least not North American wildlife," one commenter wrote.

"They are banned in several states now because they are an African species and a threat to native fish and amphibians, some of which are already endangered. They have already invaded natural ecosystems in many California counties. So many people just dump their pets when they get bored with them. I would like to see the importation of them stopped for that reason only."

The CDC says "No regulations prohibit the sale of small frogs, but education measures might help reduce the risk for salmonella transmission."

Another NPR listener commented: "Of course these frogs carry the salmonella; but what is needed here is for kids and their parents to respect them as wildlife, not as dolls or toys.

"The marketing of them is a setup for this type of disaster. If we learn to live with animals properly we won't be getting sick from them, or they from us. Right, this is not rocket science, but it does take thought."

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