The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are warning reptile owners to avoid kissing or snuggling their turtles due to an ongoing outbreak of salmonella. The outbreak has sickened more than two dozen people across 11 states, with nine individuals requiring hospitalization. The affected states are California, Montana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee, which has seen the highest number of cases so far. However, officials suspect that the actual number of sick individuals is likely higher, as many people recover at home without seeking medical attention or undergoing salmonella testing.
The CDC's investigation has linked the salmonella bacteria to small turtles, particularly those with shells less than 4 inches long. While all turtles have the potential to carry harmful pathogens in their droppings, smaller turtles are a known source of illness. It is illegal to sell and distribute turtles with shells less than 4 inches long as pets, as they have been responsible for numerous illnesses, especially in young children. Despite the ban, these turtles can still be found illegally sold online and at stores, flea markets, and roadside stands.
According to the CDC, germs can be spread anywhere the turtles live and roam. Reptile owners are urged to wash their hands thoroughly after handling their turtles and before touching their face or food. Additionally, it is advised not to release turtles into the wild, as it can disrupt wildlife and may be considered illegal in certain areas. The agency cautions against allowing turtles in areas where food is present, as this can lead to the spread of salmonella germs and subsequent illness.
Individuals who develop a fever of 102°F, experience vomiting, show signs of dehydration, or have persistent bloody diarrhea for more than three days are advised to seek medical attention. While most people experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps within six hours to six days after infection, those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing more severe health complications. Salmonella infections cause approximately 1.35 million illnesses, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths each year in the United States.
This recent outbreak adds to a growing list of warnings regarding the spread of salmonella infections through various animals. In recent years, health officials have cautioned against close contact with bearded dragons, hedgehogs, ducks, chickens, and other animals due to the risk of salmonella transmission. The CDC's advice to avoid kissing or snuggling turtles mirrors previous warnings issued in relation to other animals.
It is worth noting that salmonella infections can also be contracted from dogs and cats. Dogs can pass bacteria to humans through their mouths, while infected cats, particularly those that consume raw meat, can excrete the bacteria in their stool. The Cornell Feline Health Center recommends wearing gloves when cleaning litter boxes to prevent infection.
In light of the ongoing outbreak, the CDC advises individuals not to purchase turtles for children under 5 years old or adults over 65. Regular handwashing after handling turtles is strongly recommended, along with avoiding eating or drinking around the animals. Turtle owners who wish to rehome their pets should contact local reptile rescue organizations, animal shelters, or pet stores for safe options.
Salmonella symptoms typically include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Most cases last for four to seven days, with symptoms appearing six hours to six days after infection. In severe cases, individuals may experience high fever, aches, headaches, lethargy, a rash, and blood in the urine or stool, with fatal outcomes possible. The CDC's warnings regarding salmonella outbreaks serve as a reminder of the potential risks associated with close contact with animals and the importance of proper hygiene practices to prevent infection.
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