NEW YORK (FOX5NY) - The advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may seem almost comical – "Don't kiss or snuggle your turtle" – but the consequences of ignoring the tip can be very serious. That is because all turtles carry Salmonella bacteria – and the agency has traced an outbreak of Salmonella infections in people to pet turtles.
The CDC reported that at least 37 people in 13 states – including Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York – were infected between March 1 and August 3, 2017. No one has died but 16 patients were treated in hospitals. A dozen patients are children 5 and younger.
Some of the patients said they bought turtles from street vendors or markets or received them as gifts, the CDC said.
Very small turtles are especially risky, the CDC said. In fact, selling to distributing turtles with shells less than 4 inches long is illegal – and has been for more than 40 years.
"Do not buy small turtles as pets or give them as gifts," the CDC said. "All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean."
The CDC said it expects the outbreak to continue because many people aren't aware of the risks of Salmonella infection from contact with turtles.
The CDC has detailed resources for pet owners to minimize the risk of infection. This is a summary of some points:
- Wash your hands with soap and hot water immediately after handling a turtle, its cage or tank, and anything inside the habitat, such as plants, water, food, or filters.
- Keep your turtle away from your food and your food-preparation areas.
- Don't let your turtles wander around your home.
- Do not wash your turtle, its habitat, or any supplies in your kitchen sink. If you use the bathtub, thoroughly clean it with bleach after.
- Keep turtles away from young children, the elderly, or anyone who has a weakened immune system.