Pa., NJ among 13 states hit by illness linked to pet turtles

Pet turtles blamed for multi-state salmonella outbreak

Three people in CT have gotten sick from turtles, according to federal officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises not to buy small turtles as pets or give them as gifts.

Pennsylvania had five of 37 cases reported in 13 states as of August 25, with one in New Jersey.

Of the 37 cases, 16 people have been hospitalized. Those with weakened immune systems, adults over 65 years old, and young children below 5 years old are most vulnerable to severe infection.

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Turtles carry salmonella bacteria on their shell and skin, which does not affect them but transmits to humans. The CDC reports that 15 of those who fell ill reported contact with turtles or their environment, such as water from a turtle habitat, before getting sick.

The Food and Drug Administration has banned the selling of turtles with shells smaller than four inches since 1975 due to their salmonella connection.

In 2015 and 2016, more than 200 people were sickened in similar outbreaks linked to small turtles.

The agency has so far reported 37 cases of salmonella illness, 11 of which occurred in NY.

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"This close genetic relationship means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection", the CDC's statement said. The FDA prohibited the distribution and sale of small turtles - those with shells four inches and smaller - in 1975.

To prevent people from getting sick, the CDC published a handy, kid-friendly fact sheet, telling people "don't kiss or snuggle with your turtle". Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. Pet reptiles in general seem to be suspect, according to the CDC.

Lab tests from the 37 patients revealed they all tested positive for Salmonella Agbeni, a rare strain of the bacteria that doesn't typically infect humans. "These outbreaks are a reminder to follow simple steps to enjoy pet reptiles and keep your family healthy", CDC said. "They've busted two turtle vendors in Montgomery County in the past two weeks: One for selling the turtles to a Silver Spring store; the other for hawking them at the Six Flags parking lot".

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