Salmonella From Pet Turtle Kills Baby

Baby's Salmonella Infection Tied to Family's Small Pet Turtle, Says CDC

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 09, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 9, 2007 -- A baby girl in Florida died in March of salmonella infectionlinked to her family's small pet turtle, the CDC reports.

The 3-week-old girl had been sick for a day before being taken to a hospitalemergency room and then immediately transferred to a pediatric hospital. Shehad a fever, went into shock, and died on March 1, according to the CDC.

A family friend had given the girl's family a small pet turtle in January2007. The turtle had been bought as a pet at a flea market.

The U.S. has banned the sale of small turtles (those with a shell shorterthan 4 inches long) since 1975. The ban is intended to help prevent salmonellainfection in children, but it's not always observed.

Salmonella bacteria cause salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, whichtypically includes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most cases ofsalmonella infection aren't fatal. But young children, elderly adults, andpeople with weak immune systems may be particularly vulnerable to severesalmonella infection.

Salmonella and Pet Turtles

The CDC also notes 12 nonfatal U.S. cases of salmonella infection linked toturtles from October 2006 through April 2007.

Nine of those 12 patients had turtles as household pets; they had had theirpet turtles for various lengths of time, ranging from less than a month tonearly five years.

Most turtles carry salmonella bacteria and occasionally shed those bacteriain their feces. Salmonella can spread to people through direct or indirectcontact with a turtle or its feces.

There are no methods guaranteed to rid turtles of salmonella, notes thatCDC.

"All turtles, regardless of [shell] size, should be handled as thoughthey are infected with salmonella," says the CDC in its Morbidity andMortality Weekly Report.

Salmonella infections have also been linked to other reptiles andamphibians, notes the CDC.

Preventing Salmonella Infection From Turtles

The CDC provides these tips to help prevent salmonella infection fromturtles, other reptiles, and amphibians.

  • Pet store owners and veterinarians should warn owners of pet reptiles andamphibians about salmonella risk.
  • Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling reptiles,amphibians, or their cages.
  • People at increased risk for salmonella infection (such as children lessthan 5 years old and people with weak immune systems) should avoid contact withreptiles and amphibians.
  • Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of homes of people with childrenyounger than 5 or people with weak immune systems.
  • Families expecting a new child should give their pet reptiles andamphibians away before the child arrives.
  • Don't keep reptiles and amphibians in child care centers.
  • Don't let reptiles and amphibians roam freely around the home.
  • Keep reptiles and amphibians out of kitchens and other food preparationareas.
  • Don't bathe pet reptiles or amphibians in the kitchen sink, and don't cleantheir cages there, either.
  • If you wash pet reptiles or amphibians in a bathtub, clean the tubthoroughly afterward.

Show Sources

SOURCES: CDC, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 6, 2007; vol 56: pp 649-652. CDC: "Salmonellosis." News release, CDC.

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