Yet another reminder of the risks associated with handling turtles (and other reptiles) comes to us from a report published earlier this year regarding an outbreak of salmonellosis in people tied to contact with turtles. In this case, more than 100 people in 33 US states were affected. The report sparked additional public education efforts in Los Angeles county, CA, where eight of the cases occurred.
The report comes as no surprise – turtles are actually relatively commonly implicated in cases of salmonellosis in people (although still not nearly as commonly as foodborne transmission). It’s particularly a concern in children, because kids may have close contact with pet turtles and may be more susceptible to serious infection.
In response to the cases in Los Angeles, the county Department of Public Health emphasized that parents must be wary of buying turtles for their children. Even though the sale of small turtles (less than 4 inches long) was banned in the US over 30 years ago, unfortunately these animals are still widely available in many pet stores, flea markets, and from other sources. Los Angeles Public Health personnel reported that children were getting sick because they were kissing their pet turtles – something that is very risky and should never be done by anyone, especially children. If people have pet turtles, they must be very diligent to practice good hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission of Salmonella.
More information about the risks associated with pet turtles, and measures that should be taken by people who own turtles, is available on the Worms & Germs Resources page.