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A salmonella outbreak is being linked to pet turtles

In this Aug 25, 2019 photo, a Southern Vietnamese box turtle (Cuora picturata) walks in its pen at a turtle sanctuary in Cuc Phuong national park in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam.
Hau Dinh
/
AP
In this Aug 25, 2019 photo, a Southern Vietnamese box turtle (Cuora picturata) walks in its pen at a turtle sanctuary in Cuc Phuong national park in Ninh Binh province, Vietnam.

A salmonella outbreak in 11 states has been linked to small turtles, the CDC announced last week.

Twenty-six people have fallen ill from the bacteria, including residents in California, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York. Nine of those people have been hospitalized.

People started to get sick beginning in October 2022; the most recently recorded case was from this past July.

Of the 20 infected people who shared with the CDC how they contracted the infection, 16 reported having contact with a pet turtle.

"The true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported, and this outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses," the CDC said. "This is because many people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella."

"Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam," the CDC said.

Symptoms of salmonella infection include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and stomach cramps.

Dos and don'ts of owning a pet turtle

Turtles with shells smaller than four inches wide cannot be kept as pets, per federal law, as they are particularly prone to causing illness. For that reason, the CDC does not recommend turtles as pets for people under age 5 or over 65, or people with weak immune systems.

Of the 13 people who shared information with the CDC about the size of the turtle they had been in contact with, 12 reported the turtles had shells smaller than four inches wide.

You should always wash your hands after handling a turtle or touching the area it lives in. You should not kiss or cuddle a turtle and should not handle food or beverages around it.

When cleaning your pet's items, use a specially designated basin and sponge. If you clean the items in a bathtub or sink, disinfect it after.

If you no longer want your turtle, do not release it into the wild. Instead, call a local reptile rescue, pet store or shelter to discuss rehoming options.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ayana Archie