The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning people not to get too close to turtles due to a salmonella outbreak affecting several states across the country.
As of Friday, 26 people in 11 states had reportedly been infected, the CDC reported. In total, nine people have been hospitalized.
The first cases of salmonella thought to be linked to turtles were reported in October 2022, and new cases have been reported almost every month since. It can take three to four weeks to determine if a person who gets sick is related to an outbreak, the CDC explains.
Tennessee has reported the most cases with six, followed by Pennsylvania with four, New York with three, Illinois, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, and Ohio with two cases, and finally, with one case reported so far, Kentucky, California, and Missouri.
The average age of those who became ill was 14 years, and 31% of the patients were less than 5 years old.
“Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean,” the notice said. “These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam.”
Last month, the Tennessee Department of Health determined that samples from two turtles and their tanks collected from the home of a sick person had salmonella "closely related to bacteria from sick people." Thirteen people who got sick said they bought their turtle online, in stores, or at a reptile show, but it's not clear if there's a common source of turtles.
The CDC said turtles of any size can transfer the bacteria to humans, but turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches are more likely to do so, making it illegal to sell those smaller reptiles as pets.
“You can get sick from touching a turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or food with unwashed hands and swallowing Salmonella germs.”
Salmonella infections are commonly associated with diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps, according to the CDC. Symptoms can begin anywhere from six hours to six days after being infected with the bacteria. Most people can recover without treatment within four to seven days.
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