Concerns voiced over reptile event in Williamson County after CDC links bearded dragons to salmonella outbreak

Williamson County

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Chirping, slithering and crawling creatures are settling into the Williamson County Expo Center this weekend for an event called “Repticon.” It’s an outlet vendors use to buy and sell exotic animals.

“We purchased the business a couple years ago outright,” said Luis Martinez. “The business wasn’t passed down. We just worked hard for it. We try to educate people and let them know these creatures aren’t scary.”

Martinez came to the Williamson County Expo Center from the Bay Area, where he owns an exotic pet business.

Luis Martinez and his wife set up for Repticon this weekend

“This kinda thing gives vendors a way to get out and help grow their business,” said Mike Dean, Organizer of Repticon.

It’s also an opportunity for people who aren’t familiar with these exotic animals to learn more about them, but it worries animal protection advocates.

“Reptiles are often sold as pets and unfortunately not a lot of people know how to look after them,” said Ben Williamson, World Animal Protection.

“There are different rules and regulations across states on what you can and cannot have,” said Dean. “That’s the thing we want to promote, and make sure people take care of the animals properly.”

During this global pandemic, which is suspected of starting with a wild animal in a wet market, Williamson’s animal protection group says ‘humans should not be interacting with animals that can carry any sort of disease.’

“Reptiles are also vectors of zoonotic diseases,” said Williamson. “These diseases are passed from reptiles to humans.”

The CDC linked the most recent salmonella outbreak to the bearded dragon. According to the CDC, those who fell ill reported buying a bearded dragon at pet stores across the U.S.

“I don’t know of a time when I didn’t have some sort of snake lying around somewhere,” said Troy Hibbitts.

Hibbitts is no stranger to these creeping creatures. He’s been part of the Texas Herpetological Society and an advanced placement biology teacher for decades.

“I don’t want to say it’s rare. I don’t want to diminish the risk. Any scaled reptile can have salmonella,” said Troy Hibbitts.

It’s one reason why Williamson’s group sent a letter to the county expressing concern about this weekend’s reptile event.

“We think it’s crazy that at a time when everyone is following the CDC advice over COVID-19, they should be following the CDC advice over salmonella.”

In October, the CDC said it was investigating an outbreak of 13 salmonella infections in eight states linked to bearded dragons. To put that into context though, in September the CDC said it was investigating more than 1,300 salmonella cases linked to backyard chickens and ducks.

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