CDC identifies turtles purchased online as source of Salmonella outbreak

Small turtles purchased online have been linked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a Salmonella outbreak that has sickened 15 people and hospitalized at least five since January of this year.

Many people in this outbreak reported purchasing turtles with shells less than 4 inches long from online stores before getting sick. Three people in this outbreak purchased their turtles from a website called myturtlestore.com. The same strain of Salmonella making people sick in this outbreak was also found on turtles purchased from myturtlestore.com.

Federal law bans the sale and distribution of turtles less than 4 inches long as pets. However, these turtles can sometimes be found illegally online and at stores, flea markets, and roadside stands.

Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam.

The CDC advises that you take steps to stay healthy around your pet turtle (tips can be found at the bottom of the article). 

Do not buy small turtles with shells less than 4 inches long, including online from myturtlestore.com.

The outbreak

As of July 19, 2022, a total of 15 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Stanley have been reported from 11 states. Illnesses started on dates ranging from Jan. 3 to June 24, 2022.

Sick people range in age from less than one year to 59 years with 71 percent of ill people being female. Of the 12 people with information available, 5 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported in connection with this outbreak.

According to the CDC, the true number of sick people in an outbreak is likely much higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. 

State and local public health officials are interviewing people about the animals they came into contact with in the week before they got sick. 

Of the 9 people interviewed, 8 reported touching turtles. Of the 7 people interviewed about the size of their turtle, 6 reported contact with a pet turtle with a shell less than 4 inches long. Of the 7 people interviewed about where they purchased their turtles, 6 reported purchasing their small turtles from online retailers. Of the 6 people who purchased their turtles online, 3 purchased from a website called myturtlestore.com.

How the CDC found the source of this outbreak

On May 9, 2022, the Tennessee Department of Health collected samples from two small turtles in a sick person’s home for testing. These turtles were purchased from myturtlestore.com. Whole genome sequencing (WGS) showed that the Salmonella on the turtles and their environment match bacteria from sick people.

Helpful tips from the CDC, If you are thinking of getting a pet turtle:

  • Only buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches and buy them from a reputable pet store
    • Reputable pet stores do not sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.
  • Pick the right pet for your family
    • Pet turtles are not recommended for children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. These people are more likely to get a serious illness from germs that turtles can carry.

Always take these steps to stay healthy around your pet turtle:

  • Wash your hands
    • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding your turtle and after touching or cleaning the area where it lives and roams.
    • Adults should make sure young children are washing their hands properly.
  • Play safely
    • Don’t kiss or snuggle your turtle, and don’t eat or drink around it. This can spread Salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick.
    • Keep your turtle out of your kitchen and other areas where you eat, store, or prepare food.
  • Keep things clean
    • Clean your turtle supplies outside the house, if possible. These supplies may include its tank, toys, and feeders.
    • If you clean the supplies indoors, don’t clean them in the kitchen or other areas where you eat or prepare food. Use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right after.

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these severe Salmonella symptoms:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102° degrees F
  • Diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Not urinating much
    • Dry mouth and throat
    • Feeling dizzy when standing up

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