A four-month-old baby fell seriously ill with salmonella she caught from the family’s pet snake.

The baby girl was admitted to intensive care at St Thomas Hospital with a fever and high heart rate in August, where hospital tests revealed she was suffering from a strain known as salmonella Arizona, which is commonly associated with snakes.

She has recovered since then and an investigation by environmental health officers at Sutton Council identified the most likely source to be the family’s two royal python snakes, which can carry the infection in their gut and spread it through their droppings.

Her mother, who did not want to be named, said: “At first we thought it was just teething problems but it was soon pretty clear that it was a lot more serious.

"We took her straight to the hospital and by that time she had a really high temperature and was turning grey.

“The doctors later told us they feared the infection would cause a heart attack.

“We knew nothing about salmonella at the time, we just thought that because the snakes were in their tank they were safe.

“People don’t know about the risks, all you have to do is touch the snakes and then hold your child – it’s that easy to catch.

"I wouldn’t have any reptiles in the house after this, it’s just not worth the risk.”

The council has now issued a hygiene warning to owners of exotic reptiles, saying it is essential for them to wash hands thoroughly after handling a reptile and keep the animal away from anywhere food is prepared.

Ordinary household disinfectant can be used to clean surfaces.

Councillor Ruth Dombey, deputy leader of Sutton Council, said: “Salmonella is usually associated with undercooked meat, poultry or eggs but few people realise that reptiles are a common carrier.

“Basic hygiene precautions, like thoroughly washing your hands after handling a reptile, can go a long way to cutting the risk of infection.”

Salmonella in adults usually causes a mild illness with fever, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, but it can be fatal for babies and young children.

For more information about salmonella, and what can be done to minimise the risks, visit the Health Protection Agency at www.hpa.org.uk.

Do you have a pet snake? Let us know at suttonguardian.co.uk