Pet turtles cause salmonella outbreak in Pa., one dead from illness

Pennsylvania

(AP Photo/Ric Feld)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — On Wednesday the Pa. Department of Health warned residents of a salmonella outbreak linked to small pet turtles that are purchased from street or roadside vendors.

There have been nine laboratory-confirmed Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses, seven of the cases have been among children 10 and younger and one adult death has occurred in which salmonellosis was a contributing factor.

“While we continue to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of this investigation, the cause of these serious Salmonella cases has been linked to small pet turtles,” Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said. “The majority of the cases have occurred in children living in the southeastern part of the state This is concerning, as Salmonella can be particularly serious for children. Anyone who has purchased a small pet turtle and became ill should contact their health care provider, their local health department or the Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258).”

Diarrhea is the most common symptom of this serious gastrointestinal infection, but patients may experience fevers, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

Salmonellosis can also cause severe illnesses like bloodstream infection, bone and joint infection, meningitis, and can be serious for young children, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems.

Healthy reptiles are known to carry salmonella because they shed feces and bacteria that can infect humans that come into direct contact with them and their habitat, or indirect contact by cross-contamination of objects and surfaces.

Four of the people reported their turtles to be red-eared sliders, saying they bought them at roadside or transient vendors.

It is important to take the following precautions to prevent the spread of salmonella if you own a turtle:

  • Always wash hands with soap and water after handling turtles and/or changing water in the tank
  • Do not allow turtles in kitchen, dining room, or any area in which food is prepared and consumed. Also, do not allow turtles in bathroom sinks, tubs, or any area where infants are bathed
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke while handling turtles
  • Do not kiss or snuggle turtles
  • Those at high risk of disease (e.g., children less than 5 years of age, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised persons) should avoid contact with turtles.

If you come into contact with a turtle and become ill it’s recommended you contact your health care provider.

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