No Pet Turtle for You, Kid!

Salmonella poisoning from turtles is a risk for young or immune weakened children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) They seem like the perfect pets: they're slow, mild and quiet, and they come with their own case. But turtles, like other reptiles, carry a danger for small children — salmonella.

You've probably heard of salmonella poisoning from food, such as uncooked meat or eggs.

But reptiles carry it too, and multiple outbreaks across the U.S. right now started with pet turtles.

"Keep reptiles away from small kids."

The U.S. Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention reported in early August that 168 people were infected with Salmonella in 30 states.

While no deaths occurred, 34 of the people did have to be hospitalized, and over half of them (64 percent) were children under 10. About a quarter of them were a year old or younger.

When the CDC and public health officials investigated, they found that the source of the outbreaks were primarily exposure to turtles or turtle environments, such as ponds where turtles live. Baby turtles carry the biggest risk.

Of the people who were ill, 72 percent had handled turtles before getting sick, and nearly all of these people (94 percent) specifically had contact with turtles with shells under 4 inches across.

Even though it has been illegal to sell turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches since 1975, they are still sometimes sold by street vendors and in some pet stores.

Since 2006, there have been 535 people who contracted Salmonella from turtles and their habitats, according to the CDC.

The CDC therefore recommends several tips for parents and other adults caring for young children:

  • Don't buy small turtles online or from anyone.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching a reptile or part of a reptile's habitats, and make sure not to touch your mouth. This includes turtles, snakes, lizards and other reptiles.
  • Don't allow young children (under 5) or people with weak immune systems to touch reptiles or their habitats.
  • Make sure your child's school, daycare or other facilities do not keep reptiles as pets.
  • Don't allow reptiles to roam freely in your home or wherever food or drink is prepared.

An additional tip is to watch your children any time you visit the pet store to make sure they do not try to pick up the reptiles for sale.

And while you're there, if you have children under 5 years old or children with a weakened immune system, skip the turtles and lizards and go for fish or a hamster instead.

The CDC report was published August 8.
 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 14, 2012
Last Updated:
September 14, 2012