Pet turtles linked to three Salmonella outbreaks in 16 states

Mar 30, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today announced three Salmonella outbreaks linked to pet turtles that have sickened 66 people in 16 states so far.

Trace-back investigations found that turtles with shells less than 4 inches long or their environments are the cause of the outbreaks. Two of the outbreaks appear to involve red-eared slider turtles.

The CDC repeated its frequent warning that turtles should not be purchased or given as gifts. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale and distribution of small turtles since 1975, due to the known risk of Salmonella infections, especially in young children.

In the three outbreaks, 55% of the infections occurred in children age 10 or younger. Eleven patients have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

The Salmonella strains in the outbreaks are three rare ones: Salmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona, and Salmonella Poona. The CDC said the first two have similar geographic distributions, in the Northeast and the Southwest. Meanwhile, the Salmonella Poona outbreak is affecting patients in Midwest and Southwestern states.

The CDC's PulseNet system has helped in identifying cases that may be part of the outbreak.

Affected states and case numbers are: Arizona (2), California (8), Georgia (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (3), Maryland (6), Michigan (1), North Carolina (1), New Jersey (6), New Mexico (3), New York (21), Pennsylvania (7), Texas (3), Virginia (1), and Vermont (1).

In the Salmonella Sandiego outbreak, illnesses began Sep 1, 2011, and so far 45 people from 10 states have been sickened. Epidemiologic investigations found that 19 of 25 people interviewed had contact with turtles. In February, a sample from turtle tank water in the home of a Pennsylvania patient yielded the outbreak strain.

The CDC said the Salmonella Pomona outbreak has so far sickened 9 people in 8 states, with the first illness reported in December 2011. Of 8 people who were interviewed, 5 had contact with turtles before they got sick. In January, public health officials found the outbreak strain in a sample of turtle tank water from the California home of two of the patients.

Meanwhile, the Salmonella Poona outbreak has sickened 12 patients in 7 states, with illnesses that began in October 2011. Nine of 10 sick patients who were questioned said they had contact with turtles before they became ill.

In February the CDC reported on a Salmonella outbreak linked to small pet turtles that sickened 132 people in 18 states between Aug 2010 and Sep 2011. The outbreak involved S enterica serotype "Paratyphi B var. L (+) tartrate +."

It said the turtles may have been illegally obtained, and the CDC wrote that, despite the 30-year ban, the outbreak suggests that bans and public education efforts haven't been successful. The agency added that new measures to curb the sale of the turtles and resulting infections should be explored.

See also:

Mar 30 CDC outbreak announcement

Feb 2 CIDRAP News Scan "CDC reports 132 salmonellosis cases in 18 states from pet turtles"

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