Despite the fact that selling small turtles as pets was banned in the U.S. in 1975, people are still getting them. And kids are still getting very sick from them.
The sale of small turtles was banned because they can carry salmonella in their feces, which can easily spread to people when the turtles are handled. The ban applies to turtles smaller than 4 inches in diameter because experts believe that kids are more likely to put those in their mouths than larger turtles. However, any infected turtle can spread the salmonella strain to other turtles during shipping, resulting in widespread contamination. That, say experts, is the likely explanation for a recent outbreak of turtle-related salmonella cases.
According to authorities, from 2007 to 2008, 107 people became ill after handling turtles. The outbreak involved mostly children in 34 states with one-third ending up in the hospital.
Exposure to salmonella can lead to Salmonellosis, an infection which can cause diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. Most people recover in four to seven days, but in some cases the infection spreads from the intestines to the blood stream and can result in hospitalization and, if untreated, even death.
Despite the ban on small turtle sales, the American Veterinary Medical Association believes that the number of pet turtles nationwide has more than doubled from an estimated 950,000 in 1996 to nearly 2 million in 2006. They attribute this partly to the fact that the ban was instituted so long ago that people may not even be aware of the dangers of pet turtles.
So, consider this your reminder. Turtles can carry salmonella and make you very, very sick. Perhaps a fish would be a better choice for a small pet?