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Staying Safe: Keeping children safe with exotic pets in the house



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Pet ownership in this country has increased dramatically, and that has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to publish a warning about what kind of pets parents are bringing into their homes. To Stay Safe, we have some recommendations.

Anything that slithers, slides or draws the attention of little boys is practically jumping out of Mark's Ark pet store.

"Reptiles, snakes and lizards, even tarantulas and scorpions; all of your invertebrates, things like that actually are super, super popular lately," manager Steve Barlow said.

Pet ownership in the United States over the last decade has grown from 56 to 63 percent. The number of exotic animals has skyrocketed. With that, researchers have seen a few dozen new infectious diseases emerge in humans that are transmitted from animals.

"The underlying concern is that a lot of these nontraditional pets haven't had the best of health care and veterinary care. You know, they're imported and caught in the wild. They're put in facilities where they're mixed with species," explained Dr. Jeffrey Cline, pediatrician with University Health Care.

Then we bring them into our homes.

Many pet stores take precaution to ensure animals are healthy. But reptiles, frogs and turtles can still pose the biggest risk with salmonella, E. coli and cryptosporidium.

Rodents can also cause infectious disease: Salt Lake County has seen a case of monkey pox. The American Academy article also cites rodents as a trigger for allergies.

"The news is not new. It's something we have recognized for many years and have tried to encourage people to recognize the health risks if they bring a living creature into their house," said Dr. Gregory Wickern, allergist at Intermountain Allergy & Asthma.

Of particular concern are families with young children who like to kiss animals and can provoke them. Young kids are less likely to wash their hands, and they get sick more easily.

"Kids, their immune system isn't developed and mature as adults, and they're more prone. And when they do get illnesses, they tend to be more severe," Cline said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends families with young children simply avoid getting exotic, non-traditional pets. Those who have them, get in the practice of washing your hands whenever you touch them, and make sure the animals have proper veterinary care.

The article specifically noted the same concerns for kids who go to petting zoos or have show-and-tell animals at day care or birthday parties.

For more safety guidelines when handling pets, click on the related story index items.

E-mail: dwimmer@ksl.com

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Nadine Wimmer

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