Salmonellosis caused by small amphibians still a health risk for children

March 8, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating another outbreak of human Salmonella enterica infections associated with pet turtle exposures in Pennsylvania. Here's what you can tell parents and caregivers about the hidden health risks associated with these tiny creatures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is investigating another outbreak of human Salmonella enterica infections associated with pet turtle exposures in Pennsylvania.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale of turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches in length since 1975, but small turtles are still being sold. In a recent outbreak of 132 cases of Salmonella infection in 18 states from August 2010 to September 2011, 36 patients (median age, 6 years) reported turtle exposure, of whom 14 identified exposure to turtles too small to be legally traded. Five samples of turtle tank water from patient homes tested positive for the outbreak strain.

Those findings are similar to what happened during a 2008 outbreak in which 135 cases were identified in 25 states and the District of Columbia.

Symptoms of Salmonellainfection include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache. If not treated promptly, infection may spread to the bloodstream and become life threatening. Young children, the elderly, and others with weakened immune systems are most at risk.

Both the CDC and the FDA advise that turtles should never be in homes or locations with children aged younger than 5 years, nor should children younger than 5 years handle these animals. Parents should keep turtles in tanks and away from kitchen sinks and food preparation areas and make children wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching a turtle, its food, or its habitat. Also, young children should avoid contact with small reptiles and amphibians in petting zoos, parks, and other educational or scientific institutions.

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