Public health officials are currently investigating three multistate outbreaks of Salmonella linked to baby turtles.
Since September of last year, at least 66 people in 16 states have been sickened by three strains of Salmonella: Salmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona and Salmonella Poona, all thought to be carried by small turtles.
These reptiles, whose shells are less than 4 inches long, “are a well-known source of human Salmonella infections, especially among young children,” reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is collaborating with state health agencies to investigate the outbreaks.
The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distribution of small turtles in 1975 as a result of this risk.
The outbreaks of Salmonella Sandiego and Salmonella Pomona are centered in the Northeast and Southwest. The Salmonella Poona outbreak is occurring in the Midwest and Southwest.
Broken down, the characteristics of each outbreak are as follows:
As of March 26, 2012, 45 cases of Salmonella Sandiego were reported in 10 states: California (3), Georgia (1), Massachusetts (2), Maryland (5), New Jersey (5), New Mexico (3), New York (18), North Carolina (1), Pennsylvania (6), and Virginia (1).
Illnesses began between Sept. 1, 2011 and March 16, 2012. Half of those sickened are under the age of 9. Of 25 ill people interviewed, 19 reported contact with turtles before getting sick. Five out of the six who remember the species say it was the red-eared slider turtle.
Last month, a sample of water from a turtle tank at the home of a victim in Pennsylvania tested positive for the outbreak strain of bacteria.
Between Dec. 9, 2011 and Feb. 6, 2012, 9 people in 8 states contracted Salmonella Pomona infections. The number of ill people in each state is as follows: California (2), Massachusetts (1), Maryland (1), New Jersey (1), New York (1), Pennsylvania (1), Texas (1), and Vermont (1).
Of those sickened, 50 percent were younger than 4 years old. Both of the two interviewees able to remember the size of turtle they touched recalled the animals being less than 4 inches long.
One sample of tank water from a California home with 2 ill individuals was found to contain the outbreak strain of Salmonella Pomona.
Health departments have reported 12 cases of Salmonella Poona in 7 states, including Arizona (2), California (3), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Michigan (1), New York (2), and Texas (2). Illnesses began in October 2011 and continued to appear through February of this year.
Half of those sickened are 4 or younger and 67 percent are female. Of the 7 victims for whom health information was available, 2 were hospitalized. No deaths have been linked to the outbreak.
Nine of the 10 victims interviewed reported contact with turtles before illness. All 7 who were able to identify species named red-eared slider turtles.
Amphibians are also known to be potential source of Salmonella. The bacteria can contaminate their bodies or tank water, and have caused multiple outbreaks in the past.
Between 2008 and 2011, at least 241 individuals were sickened by an outbreak of Salmonella linked to African dwarf frogs.
Symptoms of Salmonella infection appear around 6 to 72 hours after exposure and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting. Salmonella infections usually resolve themselves in 1 to 2 weeks, but severe cases may lead to complications and can be fatal.
If you think you may have a Salmonella infection, contact your local health department.