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Multistate Outbreak of Salmonella Agbeni Infections Linked to Pet Turtles, 2017

Posted August 29, 2017 1:00 PM ET

Outbreak Advisory





  • CDC and multiple states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human Salmonella infections linked to contact with pet turtles.
  • Thirty-seven people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Agbeni have been reported from 13 states.
    • Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 1, 2017 to August 3, 2017
    • Of 33 people with available information, 16 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
    • Twelve (32%) ill people are children 5 years of age or younger.
  • Epidemiologic and laboratory findings link the outbreak of human Salmonella Agbeni infections to contact with turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat.
    • In interviews, ill people answered questions about contact with animals during the week before becoming ill. Fifteen (45%) of the 33 people interviewed reported contact with turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat, before getting sick.
    • In interviews with 9 ill people about where their turtles came from, 6 reported buying a turtle from a flea market or street vendor, or receiving the turtle as a gift.
    • In 2015, state and local health officials collected samples from turtles at a street vendor. Whole genome sequencing showed that the Salmonella Agbeni isolated from ill people in this outbreak is closely related genetically to the Salmonella Agbeni isolates from turtles. This close genetic relationship means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection.
  • Do not buy small turtles as pets or give them as gifts.
  • All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean. These outbreaks are a reminder to follow simple steps to enjoy pet reptiles and keep your family healthy.
  • This outbreak is expected to continue since consumers might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from small turtles. If properly cared for, turtles have a long life expectancy.

Advice to Pet Owners

  • Do not purchase, or give as a gift, turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches in size.
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling turtles or anything in the area where they live or roam, or after contact with pet feces. Do not touch your face, other people or any surface until hands have been washed.
  • Keep turtles out of homes with children younger than 5 years, adults older than 65 years, or people with weakened immune systems.
    • Do not handle a turtle and an infant (such as feed, change diaper, or bathe) at the same time.
  • Turtles and other reptiles should not be kept in child care centers, schools, or other facilities with children younger than 5 years.
  • Do not allow turtles to roam freely in the home or living area, especially in food preparation areas.
  • Thoroughly clean and disinfect bathtubs that are used to bathe turtles or wash their dishes, cages, or aquariums. Kitchen sinks should not be used for these purposes.
  • Learn more about reducing the risk of illness from turtles and follow these simple steps to enjoy pet turtles and keep your family healthy.

Options for Unwanted Turtles

  • Releasing unwanted turtles into the wild is not recommended. Many pet retailers, pet stores, local animal shelters, zoos, or turtle rescues accept unwanted turtles. Talk to your veterinarian about other options.

Advice to People Who Sell Turtles

  • Pet stores, street vendors, and others should not sell or distribute turtles with shell lengths less than 4 inches. Be aware that federal law prohibits the distribution of these small turtles.
    • Distribution of pet turtles includes offering them for adoption or for free with or without the purchase of pet supplies such as turtle tanks or food.
  • Pet stores, street vendors, and others who sell or display turtles should provide health information to owners and potential purchasers of turtles near the turtle display and not at the cash register.
    • This should include information about the risk of acquiring a Salmonella infection from turtles or from water in their habitats (tanks or aquariums), and instructions for proper cleaning of the turtle habitat.
    • Posters containing this information are available in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese.
  • More information on displaying animals in public settings can be found in the 2013 Compendium of Measures to Prevent Diseases Associated with Animals in Public Settings. [PDF – 19 pages]

Advice to Health Care Professionals and Veterinarians

Advice to Health Care Providers

  • Health care providers should ask patients and patient caregivers about pet and animal ownership and should provide education about the risks of acquiring salmonellosis from pet reptiles.
  • Health care providers should teach patients and patient caregivers about proper hand washing practices.

Advice to Veterinarians

  • Veterinarians should provide education to reptile owners about the risks of acquiring salmonellosis from these animals and how to safely clean the animal habitat.

Previous Outbreaks Linked to Turtles and Reptiles

Outbreak Cases States Deaths Hospitalizations
2015: Small TurtlesSalmonella Sandiego and Salmonella Poona
More information (MMWR)>>
133 26 0 38
2015: Pet Crested GeckosSalmonella Muenchen 22 17 0 3
2014: Pet Bearded DragonsSalmonella Cotham 166 36 0 61
2013: Small TurtlesSalmonella Sandiego, Salmonella Pomona, and Salmonella Poona
More information (MMWR)>>
473 43 0 78
2011: Water FrogsSalmonella Typhimurium
More information (MMWR)>>
241 42 0 72

Photo of a small turtle resting on a person's finger.

Tips to Stay Healthy while Caring for Turtles

Read our infographic [PDF – 1 page] for information about outbreaks of human illness linked to turtles, and more tips on how to stay healthy.