August 25, 2023
A salmonella outbreak linked to turtles has been reported in 11 states, including Pennsylvania. It has sickened 26 people and hospitalized nine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response, the agency is reminding people not to kiss or snuggle against the reptile.
Selling tiny pet turtles is banned in the United States because of illness risks. However, people still find ways to house the reptiles through illegal trades or scooping them out of their habitats.
"A federal law bans the sale and distribution of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long as pets because they have caused many illnesses, especially in young children. Despite the ban, these turtles can sometimes be found illegally online and at stores, flea markets, and roadside stands," the CDC said.
Salmonella is a bacteria that lives in animals and humans. When ingested, it can cause diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, chills, headache and blood in one's stool. Symptoms can start as soon as six hours and as late as six days after swallowing the bacteria. Young children, older adults and people with weak immune systems are most susceptible to salmonella-caused illness.
There are approximately 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths related to salmonella in the United States every year, the CDC says.
Turtles can carry salmonella in their droppings, which can spread to anywhere they move. People may consume the bacteria by touching a turtle or anything it has touched and then touching their mouths or eating without properly sanitizing their hands.
As well as advising against kissing or snuggling up with the reptiles, the CDC also recommends not letting a turtle into the kitchen or near food.
Officials say that those who want a turtle as a pet should only buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches from a reputable pet store. Having a pet turtle is not recommended for children younger than 5, adults 65 and older or people with weak immune systems.
Those with pet turtles should keep areas sanitized to limit the spread of bacteria.
A separate salmonella outbreak linked to turtles was reported last November. Across 16 states, 28 people were infected and 10 were hospitalized.