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Nontraditional pets and children don't mix

Friday, October 17, 2008

Everyone has picked up a turtle or lizard at one time or another in their life, but a new study questions how safe it is for children to do so.

American Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study on the safety of young children handling exotic animals. According to the report, children under the age of 5 should avoid owning nontraditional pets.

The study proves that children under 5 years of age are still developing immunities and are vulnerable to disease. This age group also has a tendency to put their hands in their mouth which can also pose a threat.

The report names hamsters, baby chicks, lizards and even turtles as some of the pets parents should consider dangerous to their young children.

"Many parents clearly don't understand the risks from various infections these animals often carry," said Dr. Larry Pickering, the report's lead author and an infectious disease specialist at the Federal Centers for Disease.

According to the report, research conducted by Pickering and his colleagues show that about 11 percent of salmonella illnesses in children are thought to stem from contact with lizards, turtles and other reptiles. Pickering said hamsters can also carry the salmonella causing germ which can result in severe diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.

Young children tend to be very affectionate, especially with cute, furry things such as animals. When children handle animals, they kiss them and pet them, then put their hands in their mouths. These unsanitary actions children often practice, can often be the cause of diseases such as salmonella.

"With supervision and precaution like hand-washing, contact between children and animals is a good thing," Dr. Joseph Bocchini, co-author of the report, said. "But families should wait until children are older before bringing home an exotic pet."

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