Of all the aquatic life kept as pets, the pet turtle is most preferred, especially by children. Though small and cute, they carry the salmonella bacteria, which pose as a health risk for the families who keep them.
Salmonella is the genus name for over 2,500 types of bacteria that cause the salmonella infection. They are transmitted from chicken, eggs, and pet turtles, among other things. Many reptiles and amphibians carry this bacteria as a normal part of their bacterial flora. Salmonella bacteria are rod-shaped and flagellated with specific protein coating, and are known to cause diseases in humans worldwide.
Salmonella Bacteria and Pet Turtles
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 50,000 cases of salmonella infection are reported in the United States annually, and of them, nearly one-third are children below the age of 4 years. The main cause for this infection has been linked to turtles. Turtles carry non-typhoidal salmonella bacteria on their outer skin and shell, and are most likely to transmit it to children, as they are generally seen playing with them. They pose a greater risk to people with compromised immune systems.
Infection can be transmitted by handling turtles or touching surfaces that have been tainted by salmonella in turtle feces. However, it can spread to people even through indirect contact with a turtle or its feces, as the bacteria can even infect food, water, or any surface it comes in contact with. This infection is not transmitted through a bite or scratch though.
Most salmonella infections exhibit symptoms within three days of its exposure and contamination. It causes fever, nausea, headache, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea (at times with blood). When the salmonella bacteria are not killed by the immune system, fever turns to typhoid fever, in which the liver and spleen become enlarged, and a red spotted skin-rash may appear. Salmonella grows in the spleen, liver, and other organs, infecting the blood. If left untreated, this infection leads to other diseases, like pneumonia or meningitis. People with weak immune systems, non-functioning spleen and/or cell diseases, are more prone to be infected by it. Even patients who take cancer-fighting and chronic stomach acid suppression medication can contract this infection.
This infection is contagious, so taking precautions to avoid spreading bacteria from your pet turtle to others is essential. The easiest way to avoid this infection is not to keep turtles at home. However, if this situation can't be avoided, the following should be kept in mind:
- Always wash your hands with a disinfectant soap and water after handling a turtle.
- Do not bring the turtle close to infants, elderly, and sick people.
- Do not let the turtle have free access to the whole house, especially the children play area.
- Keep the pet away from the kitchen and food preparation places.
- Avoid bathing it in the kitchen sink or bathtub. In case, you do, clean the place thoroughly with a disinfectant.
- Do not allow children to clean their cages and feed them directly by their hands.
In 1975, the U.S. government banned the sale of pet turtles with shells less than 4 inches long, except for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes, due to the increasing risk of contagious salmonella infection. However, that has still not stopped people from owning them as pets. Following good hygiene procedures is the only prevention one can take to reduce the probable risk.