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Arquivo Brasileiro de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia

Print version ISSN 0102-0935On-line version ISSN 1678-4162

Arq. Bras. Med. Vet. Zootec. vol.53 no.4 Belo Horizonte Aug. 2001 




Bacterial septicemia in water snakes (Helicops modestus) in Brazil

[Septicemia em cobras d’água (Helicops modestus) no Brasil]

S.D.A. Coutinho1*, V.M. Carvalho1, M.C.C. Ramos1, E.O. Costa2,
L.S. Diniz2, M.A.B.V. Guimarães3, M.R. Borges3

1Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária, Universidade Paulista
Faculdade de Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia, Universidade de São Paulo
Fundação Parque Zoológico de São Paulo


Recebido para publicação em 3 de abril de 2001
Recebido para publicação, após modificações, em 27 de junho de 2001
*Endereço para correspondência:
Rua Agariba, 48
05053-010 - São Paulo, SP



Infectious agents are a major cause of diseases and death in reptiles (Marcus, 1971), and bacterial infections are responsible for the majority of this mortality (Fowler, 1986). The most important pathogens involved are Gram negative bacilli, particularly species of the Enterobacteriaceae family and the Pseudomonas and Aeromonas genus (Marcus, 1971; Fowler, 1986).

There are few reports in Brazil about bacterial infections in snakes. Because of the high diversity of snake species, it is assumed that these bacterial infections are more frequent than previously published. This report relates the isolation of Proteus vulgaris from organs (liver and kidneys), and skin abscesses in young water snakes (Helicops modestus).

Five neonates (22-26 day-old) Helicops modestus kept in a breeding unit, presented small, multifocal, whitish cutaneous abscesses, and died after a fast evolution of the disease. The same occurred to three young snakes without any sign of infection, and a mortality rate of 100%. Adults kept in the same environment were not affected. Two animals were necropsied, and the samples obtained from skin, liver, and kidneys lesions were cultured in BHI (brain heart infusion) broth and agar at 37° C. Gram-negative bacilli, identified by standard biochemical tests as Proteus vulgaris (Quinn et al., 1994), were isolated in pure culture from the tissues.

The isolated microorganism was resistant to amikacin, ampicillin, kanamycin, carbenicillin, cefalotin, cefoxitin, chloramphenicol, polymyxin B, and tetracycline. An intermediary resistance was observed to gentamycin and tobramycin. Microbial susceptibility was found only to sulphazothrim using Kirky & Bauer method (Bauer et al., 1966).

In the literature, P. vulgaris is regarded as the cause of several diseases in snakes, including abscesses and septicemic lesions (Cooper & Leakey, 1976; Soveri, 1984) that were observed in the current report. With persistent elimination in feces, P. vulgaris and other members of the Enterobacteriaceae are present in the environment of breeding units, in equilibrium with the animals. In order to cause lesions, these opportunistic bacteria depend upon predisposing factors to promote an imbalance in this relationship (Marcus, 1971; Fowler, 1986).

In the current report, only the young animals were affected. With an immature immune system, their resistance to infections is lower (Stiehm, 1996). Another contributing factor for these results is that the housings had no running water, and although the water was periodically replaced, accumulation of feces occurred during certain periods. The result is that Proteus vulgaris, which are eliminated in the feces, may have been increased number in the environment.

Therefore, this report shows the risk of handling infected animals, since high resistant enterobacteria, such as P. vulgaris, can become a source of infection for animals and people in direct contact.

Keywords: Water snake, Helicops modestus septicemia, bacterial infection, Proteus vulgaris.



Relata-se infecção septicêmica em cobras d’água (Helicops modestus) causada por Proteus vulgaris. Os animais iniciavam o processo apresentando abscessos puntiformes de coloração esbranquiçada na pele e após rápida evolução, morriam (100% de mortalidade). Descreve-se, ainda, a sensibilidade do P. vulgaris isolado dos animais a drogas antibacterianas.

Palavras-chave: Cobra d’água, Helicops modestus, septicemia, infecção bacteriana, Proteus vulgaris




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