Michael F. Easley
Governor

The Great Seal of the State of North Carolina Carmen Hooker Odom
Secretary

North Carolina
Department of Health and Human Services

For Release: IMMEDIATE
Date: April 17-2007

  Contact: Carol Schriber

Pet turtles can cause Salmonella infections

RALEIGH— Public health officials urge people — and particularly families — to exercise caution when handling or caring for pet reptiles, such as turtles, lizards and snakes. Recently a four-week-old infant in Florida died from salmonellosis, a bacterial infection often associated with outbreaks of foodborne illness. However, in this case, the illness was due to Salmonella pomona, a strain of salmonella identified in the family’s pet turtle.

Reptiles are popular pets in the United States, but many of them carry the salmonella bacteria and shed it in their feces without showing any signs of illness. However, the bacteria can make people sick. Salmonella infections usually cause gastroenteritis, but can cause more severe invasive disease such as bloodstream infection or meningitis. Because the risk of severe illness is greatest in young children, the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems, extra care and attention should be taken to avoid exposing them to possible infection.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a website to educate people about the risks of disease associated with animals (www.cdc.gov/healthypets/index.htm). The site has a section specifically focusing on reducing disease from reptiles and from amphibians, which also carry the bacteria. Recommendations include the following:

  • People at increased risk of infection should avoid contact with reptiles and amphibians.
  • A family expecting a child should remove pet reptiles/amphibians before the infant’s arrival.
  • People should always thoroughly wash their hands with soap and water after handling a reptile/amphibian or its cage.
  • Reptiles or amphibians should not be allowed to roam freely through a home.
  • Reptiles and amphibians should be kept out of food preparation areas.

Additionally, although not required by law, pet stores should provide information to owners and potential purchasers of reptiles about the risk of salmonellosis presented by these animals and how to prevent the disease.

There are hazards of ownership associated with any pet. However, with planning, education and good hygiene, parents can protect their children from salmonella, and still enjoy their pets.

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NOTES: See also FDA flier: “Alert to Parents: Pet turtles may be harmful to your children’s health.”

For years, the CDC has documented and published reports of salmonella infection in people traced to pet reptiles (see www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5249a3.htm; www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4844a1.htm ; www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00037004.htm). In 1975, the FDA banned the commercial distribution of turtles with a shell length of less than four inches (www.fda.gov/cvm/turtleregs.htm). At the time, small pet turtles were associated with most reptile-associated salmonellosis cases; this law prevented an estimated 100,000 human cases of salmonellosis per year. A North Carolina law, passed in 1976 and still in effect, expanded the ban to include all turtles: “No turtle shall be sold, offered for sale, or bartered by any retail or wholesale establishment in North Carolina.”

 

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Debbie Crane
Director