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For Consumers

Pet Turtles Pose Salmonella Risk

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A four-week old infant in Florida recently died of infection traced to Salmonella pomona, a bacteria that was found in a pet turtle in the home. FDA is reminding the public that contact with baby turtles can pose a serious health risk. Although anyone can acquire this infection, the risk is highest in infants, young children, elderly people, and others with lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplant, diabetes, liver problems, and other diseases.

Risk of Salmonella: Baby turtles can be natural sources of Salmonella, a group of bacteria that can cause severe illness and death. Salmonella can be found on the outer skin and shell surfaces of the turtles.

Advice for Consumers:

  • Don't buy small turtles for pets. The sale of turtles with a shell less than four inches long is illegal. Exceptions to FDA's regulation include sales of these turtles intended for export only for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibitional purposes.
  • Be aware that Salmonella infection can be caused by contact with turtles in petting zoos, parks, child day care facilities, or other locations.
  • Watch for symptoms of the disease the bacteria can cause (salmonellosis) such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, fever and headache.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water if you handle or touch turtles and their housing.

FDA banned the sale of turtles with a shell less than four inches long in the 1970s as a necessary public health measure. The agency believed that turtles with shells larger than 4 inches didn't pose the same threat since young children would not likely try to fit them into their mouths.

This article appears on FDA's Consumer Health Information Web page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

Date Posted: April 23, 2007

Page Last Updated: 02/19/2016
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