Little Pet Turtles Spread Salmonella

Did you give or receive a pet for a gift over the holidays? Most people immediately think of a puppy, kitten, or rabbit, but slimy and slithery creatures are also kept as pets (fitting them into an enclosed terrarium limits the space required).

In the early 1970s, the FDA banned the sale of small turtles with shells less than four inches long for pets. These small turtles have salmonella naturally occurring in their gut, a bacteria which makes humans very ill. Since 2011, these infections have returned, as have the sale of the little turtles at street fairs, in parking lots, and flea markets across the country – places where it is hard to enforce the ban. There have been eight outbreaks in 41 states, accounting for 473 illnesses with 28% requiring hospitalization.

Few people are aware of the need to be careful with proper hygiene when handling reptiles and amphibians. Only 15% of patients knew that reptiles carry salmonella. Most of the sick were younger than five and largely Hispanic.

You risk catching salmonella if splashed by water from the tank of an infected turtle or touching surfaces exposed to turtles or their waste, like a bathroom or kitchen sink. It is important to wash hands with antibacterial soap any time handling a turtle. The CDC recommends not bringing turtles into households with children under 13 because of the risk of infection and also the risk to the turtle of abandonment. Children under five and those with weak immune systems shouldn’t touch amphibians or reptiles at all.


Hobson, Katherine. “Illegal Trade In Tiny Pet Turtles Keeps Spreading Salmonella.” Health Shots. NPR, 24 Dec 2015. Web. 27 Dec 2015.

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