A Salmonella outbreak linked to small turtles has sickened individuals from 11 states. Authorities are now urging people not to buy small turtles as pets. Meanwhile, those who already have pet turtles are advised to take extra precautions.
Fifteen people have been infected in the outbreak, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted in a media statement, adding that most of the illnesses have been reported in children.
As of July 21, illnesses have been reported in 11 states, with Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, South Carolina and Virginia reporting one case each, and Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington reporting two cases each.
“This outbreak may not be limited to the states listed,” the CDC explained. “This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella.”
Of the nine people authorities got to interview about the animals that they had contact with in the week before getting sick, eight said they touched turtles, with six noting that the turtles they were in contact with had shells that were less than 4 inches long. This is despite the fact that selling tiny turtles is banned according to federal law.
As such, the agency is urging people to only buy pet turtles with shells that are more than four inches in length and to only obtain such pets from “reputable” pet stores or rescue shelters. It is also reminding the public that reptile or amphibian pets may not be suitable for households with children, adults over the age of 65 or those with weakened immune systems. This is because they may be more at risk of getting sick of germs from pets.
“Amphibians and reptiles can carry germs even if they look healthy and clean,” the CDC noted. “Germs are shed in their droppings and can easily contaminate their bodies and anything in areas where they live and roam, such as their habitat or aquarium tank water.”
Those who already have such pets should also take extra care by maintaining good hand hygiene after any contact with their pet turtle, for instance after feeding them or caring for them. It’s also best if adults will supervise their kids as they wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after getting in contact with the pets.
The agency is also advising against snuggling with or keeping reptile and amphibian pets close to the face and touching the mouth after handling them. Moreover, pet owners should keep their pet turtles’ tanks and items clean.
Those who no longer wish to keep their turtles shouldn’t just release their pets. Instead, they should take the animals to a pet store or reptile rescue center.