Turtles are frequently linked to Salmonella illnesses and should not be purchased as pets, health officials warn. Two Salmonella outbreaks linked to tiny pet turtles have sickened at least 51 people in 16 states, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Small turtles have long been associated with Salmonella infections, especially in children. For this reason, the sale of turtles with shells of less than four inches in length has been banned since 1974. Many of the case patients in these outbreaks reported buying the small turtles from street vendors.
Unfortunately, children are disproportionately affected by Salmonella outbreaks linked to turtles. About half of the illnesses in these outbreaks affected children 5 and under. Epidemiologic investigations and laboratory findings have linked both outbreaks to contact with small turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat.
Symptoms of a Salmonella infection, include fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea that may be bloody. Those most at risk are children, seniors, and those with compromised immune systems.
After initial symptoms resolve, long term complications are possible including reactive arthritis, which causes eye irritation and painful swelling of the joints; irritable bowel syndrome, and heart problems.
This first outbreak includes 11 people infected with the strain Salmonella Sandiego. Those illnesses were reported from six states. By state the case count is as follows: California (4), Illinois (3), Mississippi (1), South Carolina (1), Texas (1), and Vermont (1).
Case patients, who ranged in age from younger than one year to 77 years, reported onset of illness dates between January 22, 2015 and August 18, 2015. Four people were hospitalized. No deaths were reported.
In the second outbreak, 40 people in 13 states were sickened by Salmonella Poona infections. By state, the case counts are as follows: Arizona (1), California (15), Illinois (2), Kansas (1), Missouri (1), Nevada (1), New Jersey (2), New York (5), North Carolina (1), Ohio (1), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (3), and Texas (6).
Case patients in this outbreak, who range in age from from younger than one year to 82 years old, reported onset of illness between April 16, 2015 and September 8, 2015. Eleven people were hoapitalized.
This is not the first time a multistate outbreak has been linked to illegal pet turtles. In 2013, an outbreak sickened 371 people in 40 states. And an outbreak in 2012 sickened 248 people in 34 states.