Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute small turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length. However, small turtles continue to cause human Salmonella infections, especially among young children.
Recently, more than 160 illnesses from 30 states have been linked to exposure to turtles or water from their containers. Sixty four percent of victims are age 10 or younger, and 27 percent are age one or younger.
Salmonella infections often lead to diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, but in very rare cases they can cause death if not treated properly.
Contact with reptiles (such as turtles, snakes, and lizards) and amphibians (such as frogs and toads) can be a source of human Salmonella infections. Salmonella germs are shed in droppings and can easily contaminate their bodies and water, and from there they spread to people.
Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Don’t buy small turtles from street vendors, websites, pet stores, or other sources.
- Keep reptiles out of homes with young children or people with weakened immune systems.
- Don’t keep reptiles in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with young children.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.