CLEVELAND (WJW) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people not to get too close to house turtles as several states are hit by a salmonella outbreak.
As of Friday, 26 people in 11 states were reportedly infected, according to the CDC. A total of nine people were hospitalized.
With the exception of one case in California, all cases have been reported in the East and Midwest. Tennessee has reported the most cases at six, followed by Pennsylvania at four. According to the CDC, all related cases have been reported here:
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The first cases of salmonella, suspected to be related to turtles, were reported in October 2022 and new cases have been reported almost every month since. It can take three to four weeks to determine if a sick person is linked to an outbreak, the CDC explains.
The average age of the patients was 14 years, 31% of the patients are under 5 years old.
Last month, the Tennessee Department of Health found that samples from two turtles and their tanks collected from a sick person’s home contained Salmonella, “which is closely related to bacteria found in sick people.” Thirteen people who became ill said they bought their turtles online, in stores, or at a reptile show. However, it is unclear if there is a common source for the turtles.
The CDC said turtles of any size can transmit the bacteria to humans, but turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches are more likely to do so, which is why selling these smaller reptiles as pets is illegal.
“Reputable pet stores will not sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long,” the CDC warns.
People who have turtles are reminded not to eat near them and to wash their hands after touching and cleaning the pet. The CDC also requires pet owners to refrain from cuddling or kissing their turtles.
People with compromised immune systems are discouraged from keeping a turtle in their home.
According to the CDC, salmonella infections are often accompanied by diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Symptoms can appear anywhere from six hours to six days after infection with the bacteria. Most people can recover without treatment within four to seven days.
The conditions can be more serious in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Some may need medical treatment or hospitalization, the CDC explains.
Infections can only be diagnosed through a laboratory test of a person’s stool, body tissues, or fluids. Each year, salmonella causes approximately 1.35 million illnesses and 420 deaths. The CDC is currently investigating a salmonella outbreak linked to ground beef. Other recent outbreaks have been linked to raw cookie dough, alfalfa sprouts, raw salmon and bearded dragons — all CDC investigations into these outbreaks have been halted.