Tiny pet turtles may be adorable, but they are also the source for a recent insurgence of salmonella outbreaks around the country, most of which are children.
The tiny turtles which thrive on the black market have been banned by The Food and Drug Administration if they have shells less than 4 inches long. This was due to an incident in 1975, where kids would kiss the tiny pet and contaminate themselves with salmonella poisoning.
Joseph C. Paige, D.V.M., a Consumer Safety Officer in the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) Center for Veterinary Medicine said on the FDA website, "It is the small turtles that most often are put in contact with young children, where consequences of infection are likely to be severe," he said.
"Young children are ingenious in constructing ways to infect themselves. They put the small turtles in their mouths or, more often, they touch the turtles or dangle their fingers in the turtle tank water and then put their hands in their mouths. Also, sometimes the tanks and reptile paraphernalia are cleaned in the kitchen sink, and food and eating utensils get cross-contaminated."
According to the FDA turtle-related illnesses have dropped since after the ban, but illegal trade of the turtles which are used as pets is on the rise. They are often raised on turtle farms and sold in flea markets, on the web, or at pet stores. Since last year there have been salmonella outbreaks reported in 30 states.
Mike Lathroum, a senior officer with the Maryland Natural Resources Police said to United Press International, "We've really seen a big influx of these turtles for sale. I don't know why. We've not been able to determine the source."
"We've not been successful at putting anyone in jail," Lathroum added. "A lot of times these people are from out of state, so getting them back here for court has been difficult. We write the ticket, and they go on their way."
Reported by the Washington Post In 2007 a three week old baby died due to salmonella from a pet turtle which had been purchased at a flea market in Florida. A few months later two teenaged girls were in the emergency room, one with kidney failure after swimming in a backyard pool that was unchlorinated and had two small turtles in it.
The FDA recommends the following dos and don't's on their website when it comes to turtles and salmonella:
- Don't buy small turtles or other reptiles or amphibians for pets or as gifts.
- If your family is expecting a child, remove any reptile or amphibian from the home before the infant arrives.
- Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children under 5 years old, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.
- Do not allow reptiles or amphibians to roam freely through the house, especially in food preparation areas.
- Do not clean aquariums or other supplies in the kitchen sink. Use bleach to disinfect a tub or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching any reptile or amphibian, its housing, or anything (for example, food) that comes in contact with the animal or its housing.
- Be aware that Salmonella infection can be caused by contact with reptiles or amphibians in petting zoos, parks, child day care facilities, or other locations.
- Watch for symptoms of Salmonella infection, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache. Call your doctor if you or your family have any of these symptoms.