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Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Turtles Spreads

CDC warns these tiny reptiles pose greatest danger to older adults, young kids


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Think twice before getting a pet turtle for your grandkids — or one for yourself. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced an investigation into a multistate outbreak of salmonella connected to small turtles. 

​While any turtle can carry salmonella germs, those with shells less than 4 inches long are known sources of infection. As a result, pet turtles are not recommended for children younger than 5, adults age 65-plus or individuals with weakened immune systems, the CDC cautioned. Those groups are more likely to get a serious illness from the turtles. 

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Outbreaks have been reported in 18 states, leading to 59 illnesses and 23 hospitalizations. Around one-third of the sickened individuals were under age 5. Of the 46 infected people who gave the CDC information, 33 said they had touched their pet turtles. Of those, 26 said they had pet turtles with shells less than 4 inches long. 

States hit by pet turtle salmonella outbreak

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland
  • Missouri
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Washington

Source: CDC

Turtles with small shells have been banned by the Food and Drug Administration since 1975 after an outbreak caused severe illness, particularly in children who touched their pet turtles and then put food in their mouths without washing their hands. Although the small reptiles can’t be sold legally in the U.S., that hasn’t stopped illegal sales online and at stores, flea markets and roadside stands, the CDC said. 

“Pet turtles of any size can carry salmonella germs in their droppings, even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water and anything in the area where they live and roam,” wrote the CDC in its Aug. 18 outbreak warning. “You can get sick from touching a turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or food with unwashed hands and swallowing salmonella germs.” 

Turtle safety guidelines 

If you are still keen on buying a turtle, there are some guidelines you should follow to stay safe. They include: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water immediately after touching or feeding your turtle or touching or cleaning the area it roams around in. ​
  • Don’t kiss or snuggle your turtle and don’t drink or eat around it. It is not a good idea to keep your turtle in your kitchen or other areas where you eat or store and prepare food.
  • Use a washtub and sponge just for your turtle when cleaning pet items. Make sure to clean and disinfect the sink or tub right after using it. If your kitchen sink is the only option, make sure to thoroughly clean it once you’re done. 

Salmonella warning signs 

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes illnesses in 1.35 million people every year, according to the CDC. It’s responsible for 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths annually. Common symptoms of a salmonella infection, known as salmonellosis, include:

  • Fever

In severe cases, an infection could also result in a high fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea and dehydration. An infection can also be fatal. Most people infected will exhibit symptoms 6 hours to 6 days after swallowing the bacteria. Typically people recover in 4 to 7 days without the need for treatment.   

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