The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm about a recent increase in outbreaks of turtle-related infections. Outbreaks of these infections largely involve children.
The small shelled reptiles, in particular, caused 15 outbreaks in multiple states Salmonella infections between 2006 and 2014. According to the CDC’s report in this week’s edition Emerging infectious diseases, turtles caused a total of 921 illnesses, 156 hospitalizations and the death of a baby. The median age of those who got sick during the 15 outbreaks was 10.
The agency noted that outbreaks appear to be on the rise since 2006, with eight reported in 2012 alone. And according to another recent CDC report, there were four additional multi-state outbreaks between January 2015 and April 2016, sickening 133 people in 26 states. Forty-one percent of cases in those four outbreaks were children under five.
Salmonella bacteria naturally live in the intestines of healthy turtles and are periodically excreted in turtle droppings. Young turtle enthusiasts can become infected by forgetting to wash their hands immediately after playing with their turtle, as well as “kissing turtles, letting them roam on kitchen counters and table tops where food and drink was prepared or consumed, and cleaning of turtle habitats in sinks.” The resulting infections can cause nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
A 1975 federal ban on the sale of turtles with a carapace length of less than four inches—the kind of turtles children like to get close to and feel too comfortable with—has prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of turtle-associated salmonellosis a year after became force. CDC notes.
But with a marked increase in turtle-related illnesses, the health agency found that turtle owners seem to be less aware of them Salmonella risks than in the past.
While the agency is raising awareness about turtle risks, it’s also good to keep in mind that turtles aren’t the only risks. Salmonella from turtles and other reptiles is just one of dozens of infections you can get from your loving pets. For example, cats can shed Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can usually infect without any symptoms and live in your body all your life in silence. However, for some, such as children and the immunocompromised, the feline parasite can cause serious illness, including brain damage.
Dogs, on the other hand, can protect your health. A 2013 study found that dogs generate more microbes in house dust and alter their owners’ microbiomes, potentially leading to stronger immune systems and fewer allergies.