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FDA Acts to Reduce the Risk of Salmonella Infection

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Salmonella Infection Can Cause Illness continued...

In 2007, two teenaged girls in South Carolina became very ill with bloody diarrhea, cramps, fever, and vomiting after they swam in an unchlorinated, in-ground pool where the family's pet turtles had also been allowed to swim. The same strain of Salmonella found in the teenaged girls was also found in 101 other people in 32 states who were reported ill between early May 2007 and mid-January 2008, according to CDC. When 80 of these people were questioned, 47 of them confirmed that they had been exposed to a turtle during the seven days before they got sick.

In February 2007, the tragic death of a four-week-old baby in Florida was linked to Salmonella from a small pet turtle.

Criminal Conviction

The owner of Strictly Reptiles admitted to OCI agents that he intentionally did not ask customers their purpose for purchasing the turtles in order not to lose sales.

On March 3, 2008, Strictly Reptiles sold about 1,000 undersized turtles to a souvenir business for $2.75 to $3.00 each. The souvenir business, in turn, sold the undersized turtles for $14.99 each.

At sentencing, the court ordered a criminal fine of $5,000, the forfeiture of more than 6,300 turtles, and two years' probation that allows federal agents to inspect sales records of all Strictly Reptiles' live turtles.

The court further ordered Strictly Reptiles to obtain a signed document from every buyer of undersized turtles that indicates the buyer is aware of the legal restrictions placed on the sale, or holding for sale, of these turtles.

"FDA will vigorously pursue its mission of protecting the public from those who violate the law, flagrantly disregarding the risk to public health for the sake of their own profit," says Walsky.

Tips for Consumers

  • Don't buy small turtles for pets or as gifts.
  • If your family is expecting a child, remove any pet turtle (or other reptile or amphibian) from the home before the infant arrives.
  • Keep turtles out of homes with children under five years old, elderly people, or others with weakened immune systems.
  • Do not allow turtles to roam freely through the house, especially in food preparation areas.
  • Do not clean turtle tanks or other supplies in the kitchen sink. Use bleach to disinfect a tub or other place where turtle habitats are cleaned.
  • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching a turtle, its food or housing, or anything else that comes in contact with a turtle or its habitat.
  • Be aware that Salmonella infection can be caused by contact with turtles in petting zoos, parks, child day care facilities, or other locations.
  • Watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache. Call your doctor if you or your family have any of these symptoms.