Turtles kept in many schools and homes again tied to Salmonella outbreaks |

Turtles kept in many schools and homes again tied to Salmonella outbreaks

Tiny turtles, a staple of many school science labs and an appealing family pet for people allergic to cats and dogs, may be responsible for a growing number of salmonellosis outbreaks, a study suggests.

Sales of turtles with shells less than 4 inches long have been banned in the United States since the 1970s because the creatures are known carriers of Salmonella bacteria, which can cause fever, abdominal cramps and diarrhea so severe that some patients need hospitalization. Young children, the elderly and other people with compromised immune systems are particularly vulnerable to serious complications from these infections.

Despite the sales ban and the known risk, salmonellosis outbreaks tied to turtles have increased since 2006, a research team led by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in the journal Pediatrics.

“All turtles — healthy and sick, big and small — can carry Salmonella,” said lead author Dr. Maroya Walters, an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta. “Because young children have less developed immune systems and are more likely to engage in hand-to-mouth behaviors, turtles of any size are not appropriate pets for households, schools or daycares with children younger than 5 years of age.”

Salmonella is part of the normal gut flora of turtles, and there’s no way to distinguish a healthy turtle from an infected one, researchers note. The bacteria are present in feces as well as surfaces and water that the animals touch, making it easy for infections to spread to kids who touch the turtles or play with the tank or habitat.

The first reported multistate outbreak of salmonellosis linked to small turtles occurred in 2006 and included four cases, researchers report.

From 2006 to 2011, four additional outbreaks with a total of 394 cases were investigated, including one outbreak that resulted in the death of a 3.5-week-old infant exposed to a small turtle.

For the study, researchers examined eight additional salmonellosis outbreaks associated with tiny turtles between 2011 and 2014 that included 473 cases in 41 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.

Children younger than 18 accounted for 74 percent of the cases, 55 percent of affected patients were younger than 5, and 23 percent were less than 1 year old.

Hispanics accounted for 45 percent of the cases with ethnicity information available.

About 28 percent of patients were hospitalized, typically for around three days, among the cases with data on hospitalization.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.