US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials are warning the public to avoid close contact with pet turtles following the declaration of an outbreak of Salmonella Oranienburg.
As of October 8, 2019, a total of 21 individuals have been infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella across 13 states. Onset of illness dates range from May 29, 2019 through September 3, 2019. Affected individuals range in age from less than 1 year to 80 years, with a median age of 24. Thus far, 7 hospitalizations have been documented, but no deaths have been recorded at this time.
Epidemiologic and traceback investigations point to contact with pet turtles as the likely source of the outbreak.
Health officials interviewed ill individuals about their exposures and consumptions in the week prior to falling ill. Of the 17 individuals that were interviewed, 12 (71%) reported having contact with turtles. Specifically, the red-eared slider turtle was implicated along with other turtles that were larger than 4 inches in length. Individuals reported purchasing the turtles from pet stores or receiving them as a gift.
Whole genome sequencing analysis did not identify antibiotic resistance in bacterial isolates from ill individuals. CDC officials also using standard antibiotic susceptibility testing methods from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System to test 3 outbreak isolates, which also did not detect antibiotic resistance.
According to the CDC, turtles can appear healthy but still carry Salmonella germs in their droppings, which can spread to their surroundings. As a result, humans can get sick after touching a turtle or its habitat. Previous outbreaks of Salmonella have been linked to smaller turtles and as a result, the US Food and Drug Administration banned sales and distribution of turtles with a shell less than 4 inches long as pets.
The CDC advises pet owners to thoroughly wash their hands following contact with pet turtles. Additionally, turtles should not be kissed or snuggled as this can spread germs to humans through the face and mouth.
Pet turtles should not be permitted to roam in area where food is stored or prepared and caution should be practiced among young children, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
The CDC notes that illnesses related to this outbreak may not be reported yet due to the Salmonella reporting timeline, which takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks.
This is an ongoing investigation and the CDC will provide updates as they become available.
For the most recent case counts in the Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak linked to contact with pet turtles, check out the Contagion® Outbreak Monitor.