Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak states linked to pet turtles

An outbreak of salmonella infections across 13 states, so far, has been linked to contact with pet turtles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the cases of 21 people who have been infected with a strain of Salmonella Oranienburg, seven of whom have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
An outbreak of 21 cases of salmonella infections across 13 states has been linked to contact with turtles. Mohamed Rageh / Shutterstock

Contact with pet turtles is the likely source of the outbreak based on the evidence, the CDC reported. Twelve of the 17 people who fell ill told the CDC that they had contact with a turtle.

The cases have been reported in Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, California and Washington state since May. It is possible that other cases have not yet been reported.
A map released by the CDC shows the 13 states where salmonella infections have been reported, including six in California. CDC
The highest number of Salmonella cases, 6, were reported in California. Most other states reported one to two cases to date.

The CDC has warned families for many years about adopting pet turtles because the reptiles can carry salmonella germs in their droppings. People can get sick, particularly small children, by kissing or snuggling a turtle or touching anything in the turtle's habitat.

Children under 5, adults over 65 and others with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of infection and should avoid all contact with turtles, the CDC says.

Many dogs have a condition nicknamed “Frito Feet,” in which their feet smell little bit like corn chips. As Matt Soniak wrote in a Big Question on this site, this has to do with the kind of bacteria found on a pup’s feet, and “could be due to yeast or Proteus bacteria. Both are known for their sweet, corn tortilla–like smell. Or it could be Pseudomonas bacteria, which smell a little fruitier—but pretty close to popcorn to most noses.”

Salmonella infections usually cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps from 12 to 72 hours after the person has been exposed to the bacteria and last between four and seven days, according to the CDC.

Tiny pet turtles carry big health risk: Salmonella

The illness can require hospitalization when the infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body.

In order to avoid getting sick from contact with a turtle, the CDC advises washing hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding one or cleaning its habitat.

Children should not snuggle or kiss turtles in order to prevent the spread of salmonella germs to their faces and mouths, and turtles should not be allowed in any areas like the kitchen where food is prepared or stored.

The turtle's habitat and any toys or pet supplies that come in contact with the turtle should be cleaned outside the house, the CDC says.