Pet aquatic turtles have been implicated in three outbreaks of salmonellosis involving 43 US states over the past year and a half. Disappointing, but not surprising.
Disappointing, obviously, because people are getting sick. Disappointing also because these outbreaks have occurred over and over, despite availability of good information on how to reduce the risks.
It’s not surprising, though, because it’s happened so often.
Why? It’s a combination of people not researching these animals properly before buying them, pet stores not providing information, turtle farmers in denial that there is a problem, people flouting the small turtle ban, and poor overall awareness (and application) of basic infection control measures (more on that in a minute).
The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) has reported that 5 people from Michigan have become ill as part of these outbreaks. As is typical, most were kids.
So, if you own a pet turtle, what do you do?
“We don’t recommend that they release them into the wild. Instead, we recommend that you contact a pet retailer, a pet store, to talk to them about it. Also, you can speak with a local animal shelter or a veterinarian for other options as well.” said MDCH spokesperson Angela Minicuci.
That’s not bad advice. However, the pet store and vet probably aren’t going to take the turtle. The humane society might (and those that do might try to find it a home or might just euthanize it right away). There’s another step here that’s forgotten: doing a risk assessment.
Are there high-risk people in the household (kids less than five years of age, elderly, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems)?
- If yes, the turtle should be re-homed.
- If no…
Are you willing to accept some degree of risk, risk that can be mitigated with some basic practices?
- If no, the turtle needs a new home. (There’s always some degree of risk with turtle (and any animal) ownership).
- If yes…
Are you willing/able to take some basic measures to reduce the risk of Salmonella exposure, on the assumption that your turtle is Salmonella positive?
- If no… (take a guess here) the turtle needs a new home.
- If yes…
…Get some good information about reducing the risk and decide whether you want to keep the turtle. A good place to start is our turtle fact sheet on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.