Keeping exotic reptiles as household pets may increase the risk of severe salmonella infections in young children, says a study in the April issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood. Children who contracted salmonella infections from reptiles were more likely to develop serious bacterial diseases, such meningitis, than children with other types of salmonella infections, the study found.

Salmonella bacteria cause approximately 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eating contaminated foods, which can include unpasteurized cheeses and raw poultry, can cause salmonella infections. But the bacteria are also shed by reptiles and easily spread on hands and clothing, the CDC said. The agency advises parents to keep small turtles and other reptiles away from young children.

An estimated 2.7 percent of U.S. households owned a reptile in 2013, according to Statista Inc., a statistics company in New York.

Salmonella bacteria carried by reptiles tend to have distinct variations, called serovars, compared with those found in food and may be more virulent, though the study didn’t find significant evidence of the latter.

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