LANSING – The Michigan Departments of Community Health (MDCH) and Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating cases of Salmonella in people who have contact with small pet turtles. Throughout the past 18 months five Michigan cases have been linked to three multi-state outbreaks of human Salmonella infections from small turtles. Most of the ill individuals have been children.
“Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute small turtles with shells that measure less than four inches in length. Sales of small turtles are only allowed for very specific purposes, such as genuine education or research,” said Dr. James Averill, State Veterinarian at the MDARD. “They are not to be sold as pets. In Michigan, purchasers must also be provided with a Turtle Advisory Sheet by the pet store or other supplier.”
Although the sale of small turtles is banned, shops continue to carry them and small turtles continue to cause human Salmonella infections, especially in young children. In 2013, there were eight national outbreaks connected with small turtles or their habitats, totaling 473 human Salmonella infections in people from 43 states and territories.
Many people don’t know that turtles, other pet reptiles (such as snakes and lizards), and amphibians (such as frogs and toads) can carry Salmonella bacteria and be a source of human infection. Salmonella can survive on hands, clothing, cages, equipment, floors and other surfaces that an infected animal has touched, so a person can also be exposed to the bacteria by contact with these objects.
“The small turtle ban, enforced by the FDA, likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent Salmonella infections associated with turtles, particularly in young children,” said Dr. Matthew Davis, Chief Medical Executive at the MDCH. “Turtles and other reptiles are not recommended as pets for your family, especially if there are children five-years-old and younger, or people with weakened immune systems living in your home.”
Michigan residents are encouraged to take the following steps to avoid Salmonella infection:
- Don’t buy small turtles (shell length less than four inches) from pet stores, websites, street vendors, swap meets, or other sources.
- Keep reptiles out of homes with young children or people with weakened immune systems.
- Avoid letting reptiles roam indoors and keep them away from food preparation or eating areas.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or anything in the area where they live. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
- Reptiles should not be kept in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with young children.
For more information and updates about ongoing Salmonella outbreaks associated with contact with small turtles, visit the CDC’s Small Turtle Outbreak website at http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-03-12/index.html.