July 9, 2007 -- A baby girl in Florida died in March of salmonella infection linked 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 hospital emergency room and then immediately transferred to a pediatric hospital. She had 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 January 2007. 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 shorter than 4 inches long) since 1975. The ban is intended to help prevent salmonella infection in children, but it's not always observed.
Salmonella bacteria cause salmonella infection, or salmonellosis, which typically includes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most cases of salmonella infection aren't fatal. But young children, elderly adults, and people with weak immune systems may be particularly vulnerable to severe salmonella infection.
Salmonella and Pet Turtles
The CDC also notes 12 nonfatal U.S. cases of salmonella infection linked to turtles from October 2006 through April 2007.
Nine of those 12 patients had turtles as household pets; they had had their pet turtles for various lengths of time, ranging from less than a month to nearly five years.
Most turtles carry salmonella bacteria and occasionally shed those bacteria in their feces. Salmonella can spread to people through direct or indirect contact with a turtle or its feces.
There are no methods guaranteed to rid turtles of salmonella, notes that CDC.
"All turtles, regardless of [shell] size, should be handled as though they are infected with salmonella," says the CDC in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Salmonella infections have also been linked to other reptiles and amphibians, notes the CDC.
Preventing Salmonella Infection From Turtles
The CDC provides these tips to help prevent salmonella infection from turtles, other reptiles, and amphibians.
- Pet store owners and veterinarians should warn owners of pet reptiles and amphibians 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 less than 5 years old and people with weak immune systems) should avoid contact with reptiles and amphibians.
- Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of homes of people with children younger than 5 or people with weak immune systems.
- Families expecting a new child should give their pet reptiles and amphibians 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 preparation areas.
- Don't bathe pet reptiles or amphibians in the kitchen sink, and don't clean their cages there, either.
- If you wash pet reptiles or amphibians in a bathtub, clean the tub thoroughly afterward.