A strain of salmonella carried by small pet turtles has sickened more than 100 people and hospitalized at least 24 nationwide in the largest recorded outbreak of its kind, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported Thursday.
Cases have been reported in 33 states, mostly in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois. Most of the patients have been children.
No one has died in the latest outbreak, which began in August.
But some patients have experienced severe symptoms, including acute kidney failure. The most common symptoms reported to the CDC included bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever and vomiting.
Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County’s public health director, said he had a simple piece of advice for parents thinking about buying a pet turtle: “Don’t.”
“If you have them, make sure you’re washing your hands a lot after you’re touching them,” he added.
Salmonella bacteria are most often associated with food poisoning, but about 6 percent of infections come from contact with turtles. Turtles can carry a variety of salmonella without symptoms and shed them in their feces.
Small turtles have been particularly problematic because they are often bred in crowded conditions and are more likely to be given to children as pets.
Of the 103 cases reported, nearly half of the patients remembered being exposed to a turtle and many others were friends or relatives of turtle owners. Many of the patients reported feeding, kissing or playing with a turtle. In one case, a baby was bathed in a sink where turtle waste had been disposed, the CDC said.