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CDC again warns about danger of handling small turtles

September 07, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II
  • Turtles, such as this red-eared slider, can carry salmonella, which can be very dangerous to young children.
Turtles, such as this red-eared slider, can carry salmonella, which can… (Centers for Disease Control…)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is again warning about the dangers of salmonella infections caused by handling small turtles and other reptiles.

It has been illegal in the United States since 1975 to sell turtles with shells shorter than 4 inches in length -- because children can insert them in their mouths -- but the reptiles are still sold by some street vendors and other sources.

Since 2006, the CDC has identified 11 multistate outbreaks of salmonella infections caused by turtles, with six of the outbreaks still continuing.

The agency has found 535 laboratory-confirmed cases of salmonellosis that resulted in 85 hospitalizations and one death. Because many people who contract salmonellosis do not seek medical care or are not tested, the agency estimates that the actual number of cases was about 16 times as high.

In the current outbreaks, authorities have identified more than 160 illnesses in 30 states. More than half of the victims are Latino, and 64% of those affected are age 10 or younger.

Salmonellosis causes diarrhea, vomiting, fever and, sometimes, abdominal cramps. The disease can be fatal if left untreated, but early use of antibiotics can minimize effects.

Young children are more susceptible to the disease because their immune systems are still developing. They are also more likely to put their hands or fingers in their mouths after handling the animals.

The CDC has several recommendations to prevent infections:

 -- Don't buy small turtles from anywhere.

 -- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling any reptile or objects in their habitat.

 -- Don't let young children touch them, or their habitats.

 -- Keep reptiles out of homes with young children.

 -- Reptiles should not be kept in child-care centers, nursery schools or other facilities with young children.

 -- Never let reptiles roam freely through the house or in areas where food and drink is prepared, including patios.

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