By Brianne Moore
If your kids are turtle lovers, you might want to make sure they keep their hands clean: CDC and the Pennsylvania State Health Department are investigating an outbreak of human salmonella associated with pet turtles.
Though cute and typically harmless, turtles can carry the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria on their shells. Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and headaches. Symptoms typically appear six to 72 hours after contact with the bacteria and can last up to seven days. Although most people recover on their own, severe infections often require hospital treatment, and the bacteria is especially dangerous to infants, young children, the elderly, and those with lowered resistance to infection. Salmonella can survive on countertops, bare floors, and carpeting if the turtle is allowed to roam there, potentially infecting other family members.
The most recent investigation involves 132 cases of Salmonella Paratyphi B that were reported in 18 states between August 2010 and September 2011. The median age of the patients was 6 years and 64% of the patients interviewed had had contact with a turtle. No deaths were reported.
Turtles smaller than 4 inches cannot be sold legally in the United States; however, many are still sold illegally on streets and at flea markets and fairs, making it difficult to track down vendors who might be trading salmonella-infected turtles.
So, if you see someone at your local fair with a box of turtles for sale…maybe it’s best to get little Jimmy a goldfish instead.