Investigation Notice: Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Infections Linked to Pet Turtles



The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that the agency and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human Salmonella Oranienburg infections linked to contact with pet turtles.

Twenty-one cases of human Salmonella Oranienburg infections have been reported in 13 states between May 29, 2019, and September 3, 2019. Of 17 people interviewed, 12 reported contact with pet turtles before becoming ill. The ages of those infected range from less than one year to 80, with a median age of 24. Seven people have been hospitalized; there have been no deaths. Ill people reported buying turtles from pet stores or receiving them as a gift.

Although previous Salmonella outbreaks were linked to turtles with a shell length less than four inches, those with illnesses in this outbreak have reported contact with red-eared sliders and other turtles that were larger than four inches in length.

All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they appear healthy and clean. Animals with Salmonella shed the bacteria in their droppings. These germs can then spread to their bodies or items in their habitats, such as their tanks, food and water. People can become infected if they do not wash their hands after contact with animals carrying Salmonella, or their environments.

Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. Children under the age of five, senior citizens and individuals with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of infection and severe illness. The illness usually lasts four to seven days, and most individuals recover without treatment. However, in some cases, the illness may be so severe that a person requires hospitalization.

The CDC, PIJAC and other expert sources recommend these precautions to protect yourself and others from contact with Salmonella bacteria that turtles may carry:

  • Supervise children’s interactions with the animal, including post-encounter hand-washing.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap right after touching the animal or anything in the area where they live, including after handling pet food and treats, cleaning cages or tanks, or picking up toys or bedding.
  • Do not let the animal into areas where food is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Do not snuggle or kiss the animal, or touch your mouth, eat or drink around them.

To prevent cross-contamination, avoid cleaning habitats, toys and pet supplies in areas where food is prepared, served or stored.

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council reminds businesses and consumers that federal law1 prohibits the sale of turtles with a shell length of under four inches as pets. Consumers should only purchase pets from reputable pet stores or breeders.

Pet retailers are strongly encouraged to provide information on disease risk and prevention measures to consumers purchasing reptiles. Such information includes the “Healthy Herp Handling” poster, which can be found listed in the resources below.