Drop that tiny turtle. Now please wash your hands.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting more cases of vomiting and diarrhea from a multistate outbreak of Salmonella poisoning caused by handling small pet turtles.
In three overlapping outbreaks, at least 72 people in 17 states have been confirmed sick with Salmonella Sandiego, Pomona or Poona infections, including 12 individuals so severely ill they required hospitalization.
Nearly 60 percent of those infected are children younger than 10.
The outbreak case count now includes an additional state and six more illnesses since the CDC’s March 30 update.
States reporting turtle-related Salmonella infections are: Arizona (2), California (12), Georgia (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (3), Maryland (6), Michigan (1), Minnesota (1), North Carolina (1), New Jersey (6), New Mexico (3), New York (21), Pennsylvania (7), Texas (4), Virginia (1) and Vermont (1)
Cute but contraband – trade in these turtles has been illegal since 1975 – the small turtles are usually purchased from street vendors. Like all reptiles, turtles can appear to be clean and healthy and still carry Salmonella germs, which they shed in their droppings.
In this latest pet turtle outbreak, the CDC says the infections are from rare types of Salmonella. “The Salmonella Sandiego and Pomona outbreaks have similar geographic distributions, with cases occurring in the Northeast and Southwest,” the agency’s report states. “The Salmonella Poona outbreak has a slightly different geographic distribution, with cases occurring in the Midwest and Southwest.”
Salmonella Sandiego has so far stricken 50 people in 10 states. Of the 5 new cases, California reported 4 and Minnesota 1 with onset dates in August 2011, which indicates the the outbreak likely began earlier than what was previously reported. The outbreak strain was detected in a turtle tank from the home of a Virginia victim.
Salmonella Poona has sickened 13 people in 7 states, with Texas reporting one new case.
The Salmonella Pomona outbreak case count remains the same – 9 people reported sick by 8 states as of March 26.
The CDC’s advice? Don’t purchase or give as gifts turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches. Don’t keep turtles in homes, child care centers or schools where there are children younger than 5. Elderly people or people with weakened immune systems should also avoid handling small turtles.