From Our 2012 Archives

Health Officials Tracking Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Turtles

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. and state health officials said Friday that they are investigating six overlapping, multistate outbreaks of human salmonella infections linked to turtles or their environments.

More than 160 illnesses have been reported in 30 states. Of those with salmonella infections, 64 percent are children aged 10 or younger, 27 percent are children aged 1 or younger, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Fifty-six percent are Hispanic.

"Many people don't know that turtles and other reptiles can carry harmful germs that can make people very sick. For this reason, turtles and other reptiles might not be the best pets for your family, especially if there are children 5 years old and younger or people with weakened immune systems living in your home," Casey Barton Behravesh, deputy branch chief in the CDC's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch, said in a CDC news release.

Contact with reptiles such as turtles, snakes and lizards and with amphibians such as frogs and toads can be a source of human salmonella infections. Salmonella germs are contained in both reptile and amphibian droppings, and can easily contaminate their bodies and the water in their tanks or aquariums.

"Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute small turtles with shells that measure less than four inches in length. This ban, enforced by the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration], likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent salmonella infections associated with turtles," Dr. Tom Chiller, deputy branch chief of the Mycotic Diseases Branch at the CDC, said in the news release.

Despite this ban, small turtles continue to cause salmonella infections in people, especially among small children.

The CDC offers the following safety tips:

  • Don't buy small turtles from street vendors, websites, pet stores or any other sources.
  • Keep reptiles out of homes with young children or people with weakened immune systems. Do not keep reptiles in child care centers, nursery schools or other facilities with young children.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching reptiles or anything in the area where they live and roam. Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Sept. 7, 2012