COLORADO SPRINGS — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert regarding a multistate outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to small turtles with shells shorter than four inches.

According to the CDC:

  • 15 people infected with the strain of Salmonella have been reported from 11 states. Five people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported. Many people in this outbreak are children.
  • The true number of sick people is likely higher than the number reported, and the outbreak may not be limited to the states with known illnesses. This is because some people recover without medical care and are not tested for Salmonella.
  • Interviews with ill people, laboratory data, and purchase information show that small turtles (shells less than 4 inches long) are making people sick. 
Getty Images

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 the same store.

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

Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings 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.

You can get sick from touching your turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or food with unwashed hands and swallowing Salmonella germs, says 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:

  • Fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Stomach Cramps
  • 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
  • Symptoms usually start 6 hours to 6 days after swallowing the bacteria.
  • Most people recover without treatment after 4 to 7 days.