Even a non-venomous snake can threaten our health
Many of us keep reptiles as pets at home, but can cuddling with lizards be dangerous? Are reptiles a source of infectious diseases? Reptiles are an important reservoir of various organisms that are pathogenic to humans, including parasitic protozoa. An international team of scientists, together with Jan Votýpka from the Department of Parasitology at the Faculty of Science of Charles University, investigated how harmful these parasites are to humans and livestock.
The scientists observed the presence of various protozoa in faecal samples collected from captive reptiles using DNA extraction and PCR detection. They even found a new species of trichomonad of the genus Monocercomonas in the night gecko (Eublepharis macularius) and in six other reptile species they detected different genotypes of the genus Acanthamoeba. Some of these protozoan species can be infectious to humans and pets, causing various diseases.
Representatives of the Trichomonadidae group, which includes the genus Monocercomonas, have been observed in both snakes and lizards. They are anaerobic flagellate protozoa that mainly affect the urogenital and gastrointestinal tracts. They can cause weight loss, diarrhoea, and even depression in their host. In addition to reptile droppings, Acanthomoeba genus flukes have been observed in soil and water. These amoebae are capable of causing keratitis – inflammation of the cornea – in contact-lens wearers. Very rarely, they can also cause inflammation of the brain in immunocompromised people.
The findings described above show that, although it may not be a well-known fact, reptiles can transmit infectious diseases to humans. It is not only direct contact with reptiles hosting parasitic protozoa that may pose a risk; indirect transmission such as contact with infected surfaces also plays an important role.
The conclusion of this research highlights the importance of monitoring pathogenic protozoa in domestic and wild reptiles as a source of potential infection for animals and humans living in their vicinity. For example, a pet imported directly from the wild may pose a significant risk to us in the Czech Republic. However, an emphasis on food and drinking water hygiene on our next exotic holiday can also be a preventive measure.