Potentially Fatal Salmonella Infections from Pet Turtles
FDA Patient Safety News: Show #84, March 2009
Turtles may look like cute pets, but it is estimated that they are responsible for over 70,000 cases of Salmonella infections every year in this country.
Some of these infections can be serious or even fatal. In one case, a four week-old infant died of a Salmonella infection that was traced to a pet turtle in the home. In another case, two teenage girls became very ill after they swam in an unchlorinated family pool where pet turtles had been allowed to swim.
Children, people with compromised immune systems, the elderly and pregnant women are especially susceptible to Salmonella infections. In addition to their susceptibility from an immune standpoint, young children are at high risk because they are likely to handle the turtles, and then without washing their hands, handle food or touch their mouths, which increases the possibility of ingesting the bacteria.
It does not require touching the turtle to be exposed to the Salmonella, because the turtle sporadically sheds the bacteria into its water and housing. So people cleaning the turtle’s bowl can become infected, too. Salmonella is also carried by other reptiles and amphibians.
FDA’s primary recommendation is to not buy small turtles as pets or gifts. For those who already own a turtle, reptile, or amphibian, here are some basic rules to help prevent illness:
• If your family is expecting a child, remove the animal from the home before the baby arrives.
• Keep turtles out of homes with children under five, the elderly, or those with weakened immune systems.
• Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching the turtle or any object it has come in contact with.
• Do not clean turtle tanks or other supplies in the kitchen sink, and use bleach to disinfect the area where the turtle tank is cleaned.
• Be aware that children can contract Salmonella infections from turtles in petting zoos, parks, classrooms and daycare facilities.
• If you do have a turtle, watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and headache, and call a doctor if these occur.