The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health officials across several states are actively investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections, which has been linked to the handling of small turtles. 

As of the latest update, the outbreak has resulted in 59 reported illnesses across 18 states, with 33 new cases since the initial report on Aug. 18, 2023.

The outbreak has led to 23 hospitalizations. Health officials have issued a warning to the public, particularly to those at higher risk of severe illness from Salmonella infections, such as young children under 5 years old, adults aged 65 and older, and individuals with weakened immune systems.

Salmonella can be found in the droppings of pet turtles, regardless of their apparent health or cleanliness, and can be easily transmitted to humans. 

Health experts urge individuals who are considering getting a pet turtle to adhere to specific guidelines:

  • Purchase from Reputable Sources: Only buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches from reputable pet stores. Reputable pet stores are known to comply with federal laws that prohibit the sale of turtles with shells less than 4 inches as pets.
  • Choose the Right Pet: Pet turtles are not recommended for children under 5 years of age, adults over 65 years of age or individuals with weakened immune systems due to their increased susceptibility to Salmonella infections. Careful consideration should be given before gifting turtles as presents.
  • Practice Good Hygiene: Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling or feeding your turtle. Supervise young children to ensure they wash their hands properly.
  • Safe Play: Avoid kissing, snuggling, eating or drinking around your pet turtle, as these actions can lead to the transmission of Salmonella.
  • Maintain Cleanliness: Use a dedicated wash tub, sponge or scrub exclusively for cleaning your pet turtle’s habitat. If using a kitchen sink, ensure it is thoroughly disinfected afterward to prevent contamination of food preparation areas.

For those who have decided that pet turtles are not suitable for their families, releasing turtles into the wild is strongly discouraged, as it can disrupt local ecosystems and may be prohibited by law in certain states. Instead, individuals are urged to contact local reptile rescue organizations, animal shelters or pet stores to find a safe and responsible rehoming solution for their turtles.

Businesses involved in the sale of turtles are also advised to adhere to federal regulations prohibiting the sale and distribution of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long as pets. Additionally, businesses should educate their customers about the importance of hygiene and safety measures when handling pet turtles, providing informational posters and guidance on proper care.

Salmonella infections typically manifest with symptoms such as diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, appearing 6 hours to 6 days after exposure to the bacteria. While most people recover within a week without treatment, severe cases may require medical attention.

The CDC continues to monitor the situation closely and advises the public to stay informed and take necessary precautions when handling pet turtles or considering their acquisition.

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