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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Infant Death Demonstrates Salmonella Risk From Turtles

FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2007 Volume XXII, No II

The death of a 4-week-old infant in Florida earlier this year demonstrated the risk of salmonellosis from baby turtles.

Scientists were able to match the strain of bacteria that made the infant sick with the strain found in a baby turtle in the house in which the infant had lived. Scientists were able to “fingerprint” the Salmonella, and they identified it as Salmonella pomona.

The Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of baby turtles, except for certain educational purposes, in the 1970s as a means to prevent children from becoming ill with salmonellosis. The prohibition applies to turtles with shells (carapace) of 4 in. or less. These turtles were often given to children for pets and are small enough so that children often handle them or put them in their mouths, which is how Salmonella transfers from the turtles to children.

Baby turtles are a natural source of Salmonella, which are a group of bacteria that can cause salmonellosis. Salmonella are often found on the shell or skin of the turtles.

The symptoms of salmonellosis include diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache.

Not only infants, but also children, the elderly, and anyone with a lowered resistance to disease (due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplant, diabetes, liver problems, or other problems) are at risk of serious disease and even death from salmonellosis.

FDA is reminding consumers not to purchase small turtles as pets. Consumers should thoroughly wash their hands after handling any turtle.