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CDC Reports Outbreak of Salmonella Infections Linked to Pet Turtles


January 28, 2020

Press release: Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that the agency and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human salmonella typhimurium infections linked to contact with small pet turtles. This investigation is not related to the October 2019 outbreak of salmonella oranienburg linked to pet turtles.

Thirty-four cases of human salmonella typhimurium infections have been reported in nine states between July 29, 2019, and December 3, 2019. Of 22 people interviewed, 18 reported contact with pet turtles before becoming ill. The ages of those infected range from one year to 71, with a median age of seven. Eleven people have been hospitalized; there have been no deaths. Ill people reported buying small pet turtles from flea markets, swap meets or receiving turtles as a gift. Eleven people remembered the size of their turtle, and all of them reported contact with turtles whose shells were less than four inches long.

Previous salmonella outbreaks have been linked to turtles with a shell length less than four inches. The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council reminds businesses and consumers that federal law prohibits the sale of turtles with a shell length of under four inches as pets. Consumers should only purchase pets from reputable pet stores or breeders.

All turtles, regardless of size, can carry salmonella bacteria even if they appear healthy and clean. Animals with salmonella shed the bacteria in their droppings. These germs can then spread to their bodies or items in their habitats, such as their tanks, food and water. People can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with animals carrying salmonella, or their environments.

Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps between six hours and six days after infection. Children under the age of five, adults over the age of 65 and individuals with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of infection and severe illness. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment. However, in some cases, the illness may be so severe that a person requires hospitalization.

The CDC, PIJAC and other expert sources recommend these precautions to protect yourself and others from contact with salmonella bacteria that turtles may carry:

  • Supervise children’s interactions with the animal, including post-encounter hand-washing.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap right after touching the animal or anything in the area where they live, including after handling pet food and treats, cleaning cages or tanks, or picking up toys or bedding.
  • Do not let the animal into areas where food is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the animal, or touch your mouth, eat or drink around them.
  • To prevent cross-contamination, avoid cleaning habitats, toys and pet supplies in areas where food is prepared, served or stored.

Pet retailers are strongly encouraged to provide information on disease risk and prevention measures to consumers purchasing reptiles. Such information includes the Healthy Herp Handling poster, which can be found listed in the resources below.

Resources:

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