A salmonella outbreak in 11 states has been linked to small turtles that are illegal to sell.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many of the nearly two dozen people who got sick bought small turtles with shells less than 4 inches long. Federal law prohibits the sale of small turtles as pets because of the high risk of salmonella, the CDC said, but sometimes they can be found illegally online and at stores, flea markets and roadside stands.
"Pet turtles of any size can carry salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean," the CDC said. "These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam.
"You can get sick from touching your turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or food with unwashed hands and swallowing salmonella germs."
(Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Three people in the outbreak bought their turtles from a website called myturtlestore.com. The same strain of salmonella making people sick was also found on turtles purchased from the online store.
How to stay healthy around pet turtles
The CDC offers the following tips for turtle owners or people considering buying one:
- Reputable pet stores do not sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.
- Pet turtles are not recommended for children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. These people are more likely to get a serious illness from germs that turtles can carry.
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding your turtle and after touching or cleaning the area where it lives and roams. Adults should make sure young children are washing their hands properly.
- Don’t kiss or snuggle your turtle, and don’t eat or drink around it. This can spread salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick.
- Keep your turtle out of your kitchen and other areas where you eat, store, or prepare food.
- Clean your turtle supplies outside the house, if possible. These supplies may include its tank, toys, and feeders.
- If you clean the supplies indoors, don’t clean them in the kitchen or other areas where you eat or prepare food. Use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right after.
Salmonella symptoms typically develop 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness, salmonellosis, usually lasts four to seven days and most people recover without treatment, according to the FDA.
Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, but more severe cases may include a high fever, aches, headaches, lethargy, a rash, blood in the urine or stool, and in some cases may become fatal.
In this latest outbreak, 20 people were sickened and five were hospitalized. There were no deaths reported.