KEY POINTS

  • There is an ongoing Salmonella outbreak that has so far been reported in seven states
  • Investigations have linked the illnesses to small pet turtles
  • People with pet turtles are advised to practice safety measures to prevent Salmonella

Authorities have linked pet turtles to a Salmonella typhimurium outbreak that has so far caused 22 cases in seven U.S. states.

To date, California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are affected by the outbreak. Among the states, Pennsylvania is the hardest hit with nine of the 22 cases, followed by California, which has five, according to the outbreak map.

"The majority of the cases have occurred in children living in the southeastern part of the state," Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam said in a news release. "This is concerning, as Salmonella can be particularly serious for children."

Unfortunately, eight of the people who fell ill had to be hospitalized and one person from Pennsylvania has died, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted.

The number of people affected by the outbreak is likely higher, the CDC said, and possibly beyond the states where the illnesses have been reported. This is because the more recent illnesses are possibly yet to be reported and people can recover from the illness even without getting medical care.

A Common Source

Among the 18 people authorities interviewed about the type of animals they came in contact with in the week prior to getting sick, 15 said that they had come in contact with a pet turtle. 

Whole-genome sequencing of the samples from the patients showed that the bacteria that infected them are genetically related, suggesting a common source. Although authorities have yet to pinpoint a specific turtle supplier linked to the outbreak, many of the people reported purchasing the animals from mobile or roadside vendors and even flea markets.

According to the CDC, it's often hard to determine a common supplier from this kind of illegal sales of small turtles because they don't really stay in one place. 

As such, the CDC recommends buying pet turtles only from a reputable source. And if there is someone vulnerable at the home, such as children less than five years old or an adult 65 years old and older, getting a pet turtle is not recommended.

People who fall ill after buying a pet turtle are being advised to contact their healthcare provider.

Stay Healthy Around Pet Turtles

Those who have a pet turtle should practice safety measures around their pet to prevent the spread of bacteria. As the CDC explained, even healthy- and clean-looking turtles can carry the Salmonella germs in their droppings, which can then spread in their habitat. Therefore, anyone who touches their mouths after touching the area where the turtles roam may get infected.

Safety measures include washing their hands with soap and water right after getting in contact with their pet turtle, not eating or drinking around the pet turtle and not snuggling or kissing them.

The CDC also recommends keeping pet turtles away from places where food is handled or prepared like dining areas or kitchen counters. Moreover, all of the supplies for pet turtles should also be safely kept outside the home.

The common symptoms of severe Salmonella include fever, diarrhea that lasts for more than three days, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should call their healthcare provider right away.

Turtle Pictured: Representative image of a pet turtle. Photo: Sandy Karreman/Pixabay