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Tiny Turtle Salmonella Outbreaks Infect 124 in 27 States

Three outbreaks of Salmonella poisoning caused by exposure to tiny pet turtles have burgeoned into five outbreaks, with 124 people infected in 27 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

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Sixty-seven percent of those sick from the outbreak strains of Salmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona and Salmonella Poona are children under 10.  At least 19 people have been hospitalized.

The two new outbreaks were identified since the CDC’s last update on April 5.

New York has reported 24 outbreak-related illnesses, California 21; Texas 12; Pennsylvania 9; New Jersey 7; Maryland 6; Colorado 5; Nevada 4; Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, South Carolina and Virginia each 3; Alaska, Michigan, and Ohio each two; and Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia each have reported single cases.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches in 1975 because they’re disease vectors, especially for Salmonella. The turtles remain a popular street-vendor item, however. Like other reptiles treated as pets, as well as pet amphibians like frogs, the tiny turtles can carry Salmonella even if they appear to be healthy and clean.

People can become infected by handling the turtles or from exposure to anything in their tanks or aquariums. 

The CDC suggests that turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches not be purchased or given as gifts and that turtles be kept out of homes, child care centers or schools with children younger than 5 years old.

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CDC Outbreak Map

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