Pet turtles implicated in multistate Salmonella outbreaks

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that two Salmonella outbreaks linked to contact with small pet turtles have sickened 51 people in 16 states, half of them children 5 years old and younger.

Small pet turtles are a well-known source of Salmonella infections, especially in youngsters, and they are still sold illegally, despite a Food and Drug Administration ban that's been in place since 1975 on the sale and distribution of turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches.

In 2012 and 2013, three Salmonella outbreaks linked to small turtles sickened at least 473 people in 42 states, some with links to Florida souvenir shops and turtle farms in Louisiana.

Fifteen patients hospitalized

Illnesses in the latest outbreak have been reported since Jan 22. Among the 34 cases with available information, 15 hospitalizations (44%) have been reported.

Interviews with 34 sick patients revealed that 20 (59%) had contact with small turtles or their environment, such as water from their habitats, before they got sick. Of those 20 people, 16 (80%) had bought the turtle from a street vendor or had received it as a gift.

The outbreaks involve two different strains, Salmonella Sandiego and Salmonella Poona.

The outbreak involving Salmonella Sandiego began toward the end of January and has sickened 11 people in six states: California, Illinois, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Vermont. The outbreak involving Salmonella Poona started in the middle of April and has sickened 40 people in 13 states, with California hardest hit, with 15 cases.

Seven samples from patients of one of the outbreaks have been tested through the federal government's National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), which found that the isolates were susceptible to all antibiotics tested.

CDC warning

The CDC warned that all turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella, even if they look healthy and clean. It urged people handling turtles and other pet reptiles or amphibians to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handing them or anything in the area where the pets live.

The agency added that it expected the outbreak to continue at a low level for the next several months, because consumers might not be aware of the Salmonella risk and that small turtles have a long life expectancy if they receive proper care.

See also:

Oct 9 CDC outbreak announcement

Oct 18, 2013, CDC final update on 2012-13 outbreak

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