An ongoing outbreak of Salmonella associated with turtles has now sickened more than 100 and caused a quarter of that number to be hospitalized:
Cases have been reported in 33 states, but mostly in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Most of the patients have been children.
No one has died in the latest outbreak, which began in August. But some patients have experienced severe symptoms, including acute kidney failure.
The most common symptoms reported to the CDC included bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever and vomiting. The median age of patients was 7 1/2 .
More after the jump…
As they note, the vast majority of these cases have occurred in children–and most of those have been in kids either with turtles in their families, or whose relatives or friends own turtles. In one case, they note, an infant was infected after getting a bath in a sink which had been used for disposal of turtle waste.
I’ve blogged previously on the problems posed by out-of-the-ordinary pets. While turtles may not be quite as exotic as a Gambian rat or a kinkajou, they can spread disease just as easily. Many species of reptile carry Salmonella, but turtles are especially problematic because they’re so often pets of small children. Indeed, while the vast majority of human Salmonella infections are due to contaminated food, it’s estimated that around 6% of infections with this bacterium come from turtles. This number isn’t small potatoes, given it’s estimated there are around a million and a half Salmonella infections per year in the U.S.
Given this disease burden, you may wonder why there isn’t regulation of turtles as pets. Turns out there is–but there are loopholes. More than 20 years ago, an FDA regulation was put into place forbidding the sale of turtles under 4 inches in size. However, that doesn’t prevent unscrupulous salesmen from “giving them away” when a consumer buys a tank and food, or to sell them to interested parties for “educational” purposes–putting consumers at risk.
In the end, no pet, of course, is sterile. Dogs, cats, hamsters, and even fish carry their own potential pathogens. Parents should take care whenever their kids handle animals, and hands should be carefully washed after playing. The problem is that many parents don’t realize the health risk turtles pose, especially to young children. After all, how could anything that cute be dangerous?