Submitted and written by Tristan Dorn
Earlier in 2016, CNN news reported an outbreak of Salmonella cases linked to the sale of small turtles. 133 individuals in 26 states have fallen ill due to these reptiles, which have been traced back to farms in Louisiana (Goldschmidt, 2016).
What? Isn’t Salmonella usually linked to food poisoning or cross contamination? This is not always the case. A glance at the CDC’s website lists outbreaks related to a wide variety of sources. It includes illness due to produce, nuts, meats, dairy, pet geckos, bearded dragons, dog food, hedgehogs, live chickens, ducklings, and even hedgehogs in the past 5 years (Reports of Selected Salmonella…, 2016). This shows that the current small turtle Salmonella outbreak is not first outbreak in these reptiles, or even in the in the past decade. In fact, there was an outbreak of Salmonella among small turtles as recently as 2013 (Reports of Selected Salmonella…, 2016). The CDC report highlights that this affected 473 people from 41 states, DC, and Puerto Rico linked to the sale of turtles originating, again, from a source in Louisiana. This outbreak and the current outbreak should pique your interest considering that since 1975, the FDA has banned the sale and distribution of turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches in size as pets due to their high correlation with Salmonella cases (Eight Multistate Outbreaks…, 2013). However, it is important to note that all turtles, regardless of their size, can be carriers of Salmonella (Gunaratna, S, 2016).
So what is Salmonella, anyway? Salmonella is a bacterium that causes an infection called Salmonellosis. The CDC website states that “most persons infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection” (Salmonella, 2016). While most people with symptoms recover well without treatment, young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems are at risk of hospitalization due to the spread of the disease to other sites of the body. If not treated properly and in a timely manner, these people are even at risk of death (What is Salmonellosis?, 2015). Although this bacterium causes people to become sick, it does not cause any symptoms for its carriers. Therefore, a turtle could be unknowingly infected with the bacteria, putting owners at risk of becoming ill.
How does this relate to public health? Public health regards wellness and diseases related to populations. The goals of public health organizations are to prevent disease and promote good health. Salmonella outbreaks affect clusters of people in areas where infections are present. Salmonella is a contagious disease; therefore it can spread within a community. It can be spread by direct or indirect contact with contaminated persons or matter (Davis, C.P, 2015). According to the Central District Health Department in Idaho, an infected individual can be contagious and spread infection up to several weeks after initial infection, even if symptoms have resolved (Information on Salmonella). The best way to prevent the spread of Salmonella is to properly and thoroughly wash your hands often (Advice to Pet Owners, 2016).
What can I do to care for my turtle and reduce my risk of infection? The CDC website contains a page filled with advice to pet owners. The first point advises pet owners not to purchase small turtles for themselves or for others (Advice to Pet Owners, 2016). It also includes information about properly handling and cleaning turtles and turtle care equipment. For more information, please refer to http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-10-15/advice.html.
Advice to Pet Owners. (2016, May 18). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-10-15/advice.html
Davis, C.P. (2015, September 9). Is Salmonella Contagious?. Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.medicinenet.com/is_salmonella_contagious/article.htm
Eight Multistate Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Small Turtles. (2013, October 18). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-03-12/index.html
Goldschmidt, D. (2016, May 19). Salmonella outbreaks caused by turtles. Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/19/health/salmonella-turtles/index.html
Gunaratna, S. (2016, May 18). CDC sounds the alarm about salmonella risk from small turtles. . Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/cdc-salmonella-outbreak-risk-small-turtles/
Information on Salmonella (Salmonellosis). (n.d.). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdhd.idaho.gov/CD/public/factsheets/salmonella.htm
Reports of Selected Salmonella Outbreak Investigations. (2016, August 05). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/outbreaks.html
Salmonella. (2016, August 05). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/
What is Salmonellosis? (2015, March 09). Retrieved August 07, 2016, from http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/general/index.html