State Health Department issues warning about … turtles?

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The Connecticut Department of Public Health issued a warning Friday morning, alerting residents to a possible health scourge that could be lurking in their own homes — the seemingly harmless pet turtle. Turns out, the shell-bound creatures can pass salmonella. Though there’s been no reports of turtle-related illness in the state to date, DPH, is urging caution. Here’s the full release:

The Department of Public Health (DPH) is warning Connecticut residents of the risk that turtles can pass Salmonella bacteria to people. The announcement comes in the midst of a nationwide outbreak of salmonella infection linked to pet turtles. No cases associated with the outbreak have been identified in Connecticut.

Young children are particularly vulnerable to infection from small turtles sold as pets. Recently, street vendors have been identified selling immature turtles (shells less than four inches) as pets in several Connecticut cities in violation of federal and state laws.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in cooperation with state authorities, are investigating salmonellosis outbreaks associated with turtles among residents in 27 states. Over 60 percent of the ill persons are children 10 years of age or younger and the majority of ill persons reported contact with small turtles purchased from a street vendor. While no Connecticut residents have been identified, cases include residents of neighboring Massachusetts and New York.

Persons infected with Salmonella bacteria may develop diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and/or abdominal cramps six to 72 hours after exposure. Symptoms commonly last two to seven days and most persons recover without treatment. However, diarrhea may be severe and warrant hospitalization. Infection may also spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other sites of the body. The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.

In order to prevent Salmonella infections associated with exposure to reptiles, including turtles:

  • Recognize the risk – reptiles with Salmonella germs can appear healthy and clean, but shed the germs in their droppings contaminating their bodies, tanks or aquariums, and the water.
  • Remember it is illegal to sell turtles with a shell less than four inches; vendors should be reported to local health departments or animal control officers.
  • Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch reptiles.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after handling reptiles or objects they were in contact with.
  • Do not use kitchen sinks to empty or wash a reptile’s tank or aquarium; thoroughly wash the sink or bathtub used to clean the tank or aquarium and use bleach for disinfection.
  • Do not allow the animal to roam outside of its tank or aquarium.

Additional information about the recent national investigations regarding salmonellosis associated with turtle exposures is available online at: http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-03-12/index.html.

Amanda Cuda

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