Shell Shock: Turtles Responsible for Salmonella Outbreak - NBC Chicago

Shell Shock: Turtles Responsible for Salmonella Outbreak

Not only are small turtles dangerous, they're also illegal



    Celebrate This Holiday Season in Lively St. Charles
    That pet turtle may look friendly, but he might be carrying bacteria that will make you horribly sick.

    Everyone knows that raw chicken carries Salmonella. But what many parents don't know is that their children's raw (and very alive) pet turtle also carries the stuff.

    In fact, more than 100 people in 34 states (including nine in Illinois) were infected by salmonella-carrying turtles during a 2007-08 outbreak. Most of the victims were children, and a third of all those infected had to be hospitalized.

    Strains of the bacteria are found in the turtle feces and can spread to their shells and body. With no visible sign of danger, the turtles can then pass the salmonella on to anyone who handles or pets them.

    Indirect contact, like allowing turtles to swim in the same pool as people or to walk along surfaces where food is prepared, is also dangerous. Finally, anyone who catches the germs from the turtle can then spread them to whomever he or she comes into contact with.

    Thibault Camus/AFP/Getty Images

    Small turtles can be found just about everywhere for sale: at pet shops, from street vendors and even online.

    "It's very easy to think of turtles as being a very gentle and nice pet," Julie Harris of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the AP.

    In fact, the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that the number of pet turtles owned nationwide doubled from 950,000 to almost 2 million in the past 10 years.

    However, tiny turtles are actually illegal. A 1975 ban prohibits the sale of turtles less than 4 inches in diameter.

    Because the federal ban was so long ago though, "many people just don't remember," said David Bergmire-Sweat, a North Carolina epidemiologist.

    Symptoms of a salmonella infection usually start 6 to 72 hours after exposure and can include diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.

    So be sure to keep your hands off the turtles, else there might be shell to pay.

    Matt Bartosik, a "between blogs" blogger, needs some time to come out of his shell.