Pet Turtles Linked to Rise in
Thursday, January 24, 2008; 12:00 AM
THURSDAY, Jan. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Small pet turtles were to blame for 103 cases ofSalmonellainfection in the second half of last year, mostly in young children, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
But the true number of infections with the potentially fatal bacteria is undoubtedly much higher, officials added.
Even though the sale of small turtles has been banned in the United States since 1975, the number of these reptiles being purchased for children has been increasing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is a larger number of cases than we would usually see," said Julie Harris, a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer. "We haven't documented such a large number of cases before associated with turtle exposure."
No deaths have been reported, but the infections led to the hospitalization of dozens of children, the CDC said.
The number of turtles owned by Americans has almost doubled in the last five years to more than 2 million, Harris said. This, despite the fact that "there is a ban on the sale of turtles that are under 4 inches in length," she said.
The 103 cases that Harris and colleagues reported in the Jan. 25 issue of the CDC'sMorbidity and Mortality Weekly Reportrepresent just a fraction of the total number of salmonella infections from pet turtles, she said.
According to the report, cases were reported in all but 15 states, with most cases occurring in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Texas.
Two of the infected children included a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old girl who became stricken after swimming in an unchlorinated in-ground pool owned by the family of the older girl. Two pet turtles, purchased at a South Carolina pet store and owned by the family of the older teen, were allowed to swim in the pool, the CDC reported.
Harris said many people aren't aware of the risk ofSalmonellainfections from pet turtles. "Only 20 percent of these cases [in the report] said they were aware there was a connection betweenSalmonellainfection and reptile exposure," she said.
Up to 90 percent of turtles carrySalmonella, Harris said. "This is a very serious infection, especially for small children," she added.
The infection is spread from contact with the turtles, but the contact doesn't have to be direct, Harris said. "We have one case where a baby was bathed in a sink that turtle waste was disposed in," she said.