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Turtles Cause Four Multistate Salmonella Outbreaks

MAY 04, 2016 | SARAH ANWAR
If you are planning on buying a turtle as a pet for your child, you may want to think twice. Turtles are one of the many pets that can infect people with Salmonella. Indeed, they have recently been linked to four 2015 multistate outbreaks in the United States.

But it’s not just turtles, people can contract an infection after coming in contact with other reptiles and amphibians, or their habitats (in the home or in zoos, parks, pet stores, etc.). Vic Boddie II, PhD, consumer safety officer at the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine stated, “All reptiles and amphibians have the potential to be carriers of Salmonella. And if children come in contact with small turtles, they run the risk of becoming very ill.” Salmonella does not make amphibians or reptiles ill, unlike with humans.

Among those who are at highest risk of contracting Salmonella are young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. Infected individuals may experience the following symptoms from 6 to 72 hours after coming in contact with the bacteria:
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
Symptoms can last anywhere between 2 to 7 days.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration, in 2007, a four-week-old infant died of a Salmonella infection that DNA testing later proved to be of the same strain from a turtle the child had come in contact with. Although not all Salmonella infections end in death, some can be very serious, and may lead to hospitalization.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that, since January 1, 2015, a total of 124 cases of Salmonella in 22 US states were linked to small turtles or their environments. Forty of these cases experienced severe resulting illnesses, for which they were hospitalized. Of the 124 cases, 41% were children under the age of 5 years. The turtles linked to these outbreaks were identified to originate from 4 turtle farms in Louisiana. Pond water from the farms tested positive for additional, non-outbreak Salmonella isolates. It is believed that these turtle farms may have exported Salmonella-infected turtles internationally. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is currently investigating the outbreaks.

The FDA advises against the purchase of small turtles or other reptiles or amphibians to be kept in homes. Reptiles or amphibians in the home should be removed before the arrival of any infant or toddler. These pets should not be allowed to wander around the home, especially where food is prepared, so as not to contaminate surfaces. Furthermore, proper handwashing, after coming in contact with these pets, is advised, especially for those individuals who will come in contact with food.
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