CDC Warns Of Salmonella Risk With Small Pet Turtles

All turtles can carry salmonella, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides safe practices so you can enjoy them as pets.

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Due to the potential for salmonella, baby red-eared sliders under 4 inches in shell length are illegal to buy or sell. Via Jf268/Wikipedia
John Virata

Be aware that purchasing that cute little turtle at your local pet store could get you sick. But if you do buy him, because he’s so cute, follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on safe reptile handling and husbandry tips. That is the advice from a May 18 bulletin published by the CDC.

The CDC says that four multistate outbreaks of human salmonella infections have been positively linked to small turtles, and from January 16, 2015, to April 8, 2016, 26 states reported salmonella infections with 133 total infections, according to the CDC bulletin.

Turtles can make great pets as long as you practice safe handling guidelines. Via Monika Korzeniec/Wikipedia

Turtles can make great pets as long as you practice safe handling guidelines. Via Monika Korzeniec/Wikipedia

What some may find disturbing in the bulletin is 41 percent of the people who became infected with salmonella were children 5 years of age and younger.

The CDC reports that its epidemiologic and laboratory findings linked the salmonella outbreak to exposure to small turtles or the enclosures or water in which those pets live. Turtles with carapace, or shell lengths of less than 4 inches in size, have been illegal to sell or purchase since 1975 because they have been linked to salmonella infections, especially in young children. In its bulletin, the CDC stated that the youngest person infected in this latest salmonella outbreak was a 1-year-old.

Signs of a salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. In some people, the infection may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. It can even cause death in rare cases. Children younger than 5 years old, adults older than 65 years old and people with weakened immune systems are more at risk of having a severe illness.

The CDC points out that all turtles can carry the salmonella bacteria regardless of their size and can still appear healthy. It stresses the safe handling of these reptiles as pets on its website.

“Be sure to educate children as to proper care and handling, the latter of which should be minimal in the case of an aquatic turtle such as a red-eared slider, painted turtle, etc. Stress the importance of thorough hand-washing after handling a pet turtle, as well,” Russ Case, editor of REPTILES magazine told “But before bringing a turtle home, ask yourself if you’re willing to accept the responsibility of caring for this potentially very long-lived pet in the event—heaven forbid—that the child neglects it or loses interest in the animal in the years ahead.”

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