Public health advocates have long warned that pet turtles can carry salmonella, and now an outbreak has ridden on the backs of the reptiles to sicken at least 100 people, at least 24 of whom have been hospitalized, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling this the largest such outbreak yet recorded. So far 33 states have been affected, with the highest number in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Not surprisingly, most of those becoming ill are children. Although no one has died since the outbreak started back in August, some have experienced acute kidney failure. Typical symptoms include bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever and vomiting. The CDC estimates 3 or 4 times as many cases have simply not been reported.
Salmonella does not affect the turtles, making it impossible to detect without lab equipment. It is often carried by small turtles in particular, who are often unfortunately bred in crowded conditions. Officials are currently trying to determine if the outbreak began with a single source, such as a particular turtle breeder.
Health experts are recommending children not be given turtles as pets. If they do have them, they should thoroughly wash hands after handling, and take care disposing of waste. In one case a baby got sick after being bathed in a sink that had handled turtle waste.
Reptiles and amphibians require considerable care, and are often not the best pets for young children. The spread of contagious diseases like Salmonella also should remind us to be vigilant about guarding against antibiotic resistance, something that is threatened by overuse of prophylactic treatments, in home cleaning products, the commercial meat industry and human and veterinary healthcare.
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