Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Small, Pet Turtles
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Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Small, Pet Turtles

Aug 02, 2023

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 11 states, leading to 26 illnesses and 9 hospitalizations. Around one-third of the sickened individuals were under age 5. Of the 20 infected people who gave the CDC information, 16 said they had touched their pet turtles. Of those, 12 said they had pet turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.

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.”

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

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:

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.

Donna Fuscaldo is a contributing writer and editor focusing on personal finance and health. She has spent over two decades writing and covering news for several national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Investopedia and HerMoney.

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