August 8, 2022

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Illegal Small Turtles Sickens 15

A Salmonella outbreak linked to illegal small turtles has sickened at least 15 pole in 11 states and has hospitalized five, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A federal law bans the sale of  turtles with shells less than four inches long, because they have caused so many Salmonella outbreaks. They are sometimes available for sale online and at stores, flea markets, and roadside stands.

Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Illegal Small Turtles Sickens 15

The people who reported buying small turtles before they got sick purchased them from a website called myturtlestore.com. The same strain of Salmonella that made people sick was found on turtles purchased from that online shop.

Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella bacteria, even though they look healthy and clean. The pathogen easily spreads to tank water and anything in the area where they live and roam. People then get sick by touching the turtles or anything in their environment, then touching their mouths or eating without washing their hands.

The patient case count by state is: Florida (1), Iowa (1), Kansas (1), Massachusetts (1), New York (1), Ohio (2), Pennsylvania (2), South Carolina (1), Tennessee (2), Virginia (1), and Washington (2). The patient age range is from less than one year to 59. Of the 12 people who gave information to investigators, 5, or 43%, have been hospitalized, which is more than two times the average hospitalization rate for a Salmonella outbreak.

Of the nine people who were interviewed by public health officials, eight, or 88%, said they touched turtles in the week before they got sick. Of the seven people interviewed about the size of the turtle, six, or 86%, said they had contact with a pet turtle with a shell less than four inches long; most bought them from online retailers. Of the six people who bought their turtles online, three, or 50%, said they bought them from the website named above.

Whole genome sequencing (WGS) conducted on patient isolates showed that bacteria from sick people are closely related genetically, which means that they likely got sick from the same type of animal. On May 9, 2022, the Tennessee Department of Health collected samples from two turtles in a sick person’s home for testing. They were purchased from myturtlestore.com. WGS showed that the Salmonella on the turtles and in their environment is closely related to bacteria from sick people.

Do not buy small turtles with shells less than four inches long. If you choose to keep turtles as pets, always wash your hands after coming into contact with them and their environment. Keep supplies and the pet area clean, and keep turtles out of the kitchen and food preparation areas. Clean supplies outdoors when possible. Monitor children around these animals, and make sure they wash their hands afterwards.

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