Research Note: Pet Turtles & Salmonellosis

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With the growing popularity of pet turtles, the risk for turtle-associated salmonellosis in humans may be on the rise in the United States. From 2006 to 2014, 15 multistate salmonella outbreaks attributed to turtles resulted in 921 illnesses, 156 hospitalizations, and the death of a 3.5-week-old infant. Infants and young children are disproportionately affected; the median age of patients in the recent outbreaks was 10 years or younger.

In 1975, the FDA enacted a ban on the sale and distribution of turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches to protect children from exposure. The ban prevented an estimated 100 000 cases of turtle-associated salmonellosis in children each year. However, significant exposure to these turtles exists because of the black market and because there are exceptions to the ban for scientific, exhibition, and educational purposes.

In the recent outbreaks, 124 of 141 ill human patients reported exposure to turtles with a shell length less than 4 inches. In addition, there was a lack of knowledge among pet owners regarding the connection between reptiles and salmonellosis.

Findings indicated the need for better enforcement of the federal ban and public education regarding the salmonella exposure risk. The turtle-farming industry has supported research into reduction of the carriage rate of Salmonella spp in pet turtles. The authors concluded that disease education and prevention will require a One Health approach that involves farmers, retailers, veterinarians, public health officials, and federal and state regulatory agencies.

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