Turtles may look like cute pets, but they could be responsible for over 70,000 cases of salmonella infections every year in this country. Turtles commonly carry the Salmonella bacteria, and although the turtle doesn’t get sick, people can become very ill if they’re exposed to a contaminated turtle. You don’t even need to touch a turtle to become infected, because turtles shed the bacteria into their water and housing.
For example, a four-week-old infant died of a Salmonella infection that was traced to a pet turtle in the home. In another case, two teenage girls became very ill after they swam in an unchlorinated family pool where pet turtles had been allowed to swim.
Because of these concerns, the FDA is warning people about the danger of having turtles as pets. FDA’s warning applies to young children, whose immune systems may be less able to resist infection. Also, young children are likely to handle the turtles, and then handle food or touch their mouths, and of course that increases the chance of taking in the bacteria. But FDA’s warning isn’t just about children. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and pregnant women are also at high risk.
Here’s what FDA is recommending:
• Don’t buy small turtles as pets or as gifts. You can prevent the problem completely that way.
• If you already have a pet turtle, here are some things you can do to minimize the risk of illness. If your family is expecting a child, remove the animal from the home before the baby arrives. Keep turtles out of homes with children under five, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems. Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching the turtle or any object it’s come in contact with. Use bleach to disinfect the area where the turtle tank is cleaned, and don’t clean turtle tanks or other supplies in the kitchen sink. Be aware that children can contract Salmonella infections from turtles in petting zoos, parks, classrooms, and daycare facilities. And watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache, and call your doctor if these occur.
The bottom line is that thousands of turtle-related Salmonella cases each year are totally preventable, simply by not buying these animals, and not bringing them into your home.
Reprinted from the FDA website.