September 8, 2012

CDC Warns Of Possible Salmonella Infection From Turtles

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

A series of Salmonella outbreaks that responsible for sickening over 160 Americans across 30 states has been linked to the handling of turtles, snakes, toads, and other reptiles and amphibians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced.

According to a Friday report by Thomas H. Maugh II of the Los Angeles Times, the CDC has identified 11 multistate outbreaks linked to the handling of turtles or exposure to their habitats since 2006.

Six of those outbreaks are ongoing, and in total, the agency has uncovered 535 laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonellosis (with one fatality and 85 hospitalizations) over that time span, he added. More than half of the victims of the ongoing outbreaks are Hispanic, and nearly two-thirds of them are children ages 10 or under.

"Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute small turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length," Tom Chiller, Deputy Branch Chief of the CDC's Mycotic Diseases Branch, said in a statement. "This ban, enforced by the FDA, likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent Salmonella infections associated with turtles."

"Many people don't know that turtles and other reptiles can carry harmful germs that can make people very sick," added Casey Barton Behravesh, Deputy Branch Chief of the organization's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch. "For this reason, turtles and other reptiles might not be the best pets for your family, especially if there are children 5-years-old and younger or people with weakened immune systems living in your home."

In order to reduce the risk of contracting salmonellosis, the CDC recommends that people should avoid purchasing small turtles from pet stores, websites, or other vendors. They also advise not exposing young children or those with weak immune systems to any reptiles or amphibians, and making sure that these creatures are not allowed in any facilities frequented by youngsters, including child care centers and nursery schools.

Finally, they advise anyone handling any reptiles or anything linked to the environments in which they live to wash their hands with soap and warm water, or to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if there are no other options.

"Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and, sometimes, abdominal cramps. The disease can be fatal if left untreated, but early use of antibiotics can minimize effects," Maugh said. "Young children are more susceptible to the disease because their immune systems are still developing. They are also more likely to put their hands or fingers in their mouths after handling the animals."