Pet Turtles Cause Salmonella Outbreak

Small Pet Turtles Are a Health Risk, Especially to Young Kids, Says CDC

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 24, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 24, 2008 -- The CDC today blamed small pet turtles for infecting at least 44 people in five states with salmonella bacteria.

Salmonella infection usually causes diarrhea, which may be bloody. Serious complications and death can also occur but are rarer.

Those cases, which happened since May 2007, mostly affected young kids who played with or cared for the turtles. No deaths have been linked to the salmonella outbreak. Cases were reported in California, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

"These turtles are a risk to the public and especially to young children," states the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

This isn't the first time that the CDC has warned the public that turtles (and other reptiles) can carry salmonella bacteria. But 80% of the patients in the current outbreak didn't know that.

A baby girl in Florida died in March 2007 from salmonella infection from her family's small pet turtle. That case happened before the current outbreak began, according to the CDC.

People can catch salmonella by handling turtles or touching surfaces that have been tainted by salmonella in turtle feces.

Due to salmonella risk, the U.S. government bans the sale of pet turtles with shells less than 4 inches long except for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes. That ban has been in place since 1975.

The CDC has published guidelines for avoiding salmonella from reptiles. But the CDC says that the ban on the sale and distribution of small pet turtles is still the best strategy, due to the "particular hazard" of salmonella infection from those turtles.

(How do you teach your kids to wash their hands after handling their pets? Talk with others on WebMD's Pets: Healing with Love message board.)