Outbreak of Salmonella Infections Linked to Pet Turtles

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Published on October 9, 2019 at 3:45 PM ET

CDC and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human Salmonella Oranienburg infections linked to pet turtles.

Latest Outbreak Information
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At A Glance
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  • 21 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Oranienburg have been reported from 13 states.
    • 7 hospitalizations have been reported. No deaths have been reported.
  • Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicate that contact with pet turtles is the likely source of this outbreak.
    • In interviews, 12 (71%) of 17 ill people reported contact with a turtle.
  • This investigation is ongoing and CDC will provide updates when more information is available.
Advice to Pet Owners and Pet Retailers
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Turtles can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings while appearing healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and habitats. People can get sick after they touch a turtle or anything in their habitats.

People who own or come in contact with turtles should take steps to stay healthy around their pet:

  • Wash your hands.
    • Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for a turtle or cleaning its habitat.
    • Adults should supervise handwashing for young children.
  • Play safely.
    • Don’t kiss or snuggle turtles, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick.
    • Don’t let turtles roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens.
  • Clean habitats, toys, and pet supplies outside the house when possible.
    • Avoid cleaning these items in the kitchen or any other location where food is prepared, served, or stored.
  • Pick the right pet for your family.
    • Children under 5 years of age, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems are at a greater risk for serious illness. Households with these people should consider a different pet.
  • Educate customers and employees.
Symptoms of Salmonella Infection
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  • Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria.
  • The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
  • In some people, the illness may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.
  • Children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness.
Investigation Details

October 9, 2019

CDC and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of human Salmonella Oranienburg infections linked to contact with pet turtles.

Public health investigators are using the PulseNet system to identify illnesses that may be part of this outbreak. PulseNet is the national subtyping network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by CDC. DNA fingerprinting is performed on Salmonella bacteria isolated from ill people by using a standardized laboratory and data analysis method called whole genome sequencing (WGS). CDC PulseNet manages a national database of these sequences that are used to identify possible outbreaks. WGS gives investigators detailed information about the bacteria causing illness. In this investigation, WGS showed that bacteria isolated from ill people were closely related genetically. This means that people in this outbreak are more likely to share a common source of infection.

As of October 8, 2019, a total of 21 people infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Oranienburg have been reported from 13 states. A list of the states and the number of cases in each can be found on the Map of Reported Cases page.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from May 29, 2019, to September 3, 2019. Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 80 years, with a median age of 24. Seventy-six percent of ill people are female. Of 20 ill people with information available, 7 hospitalizations have been reported. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses might not yet be reported due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported. This takes an average of 2 to 4 weeks. Please see the Timeline for Reporting Cases of Salmonella Infection for more details.

WGS analysis did not identify antibiotic resistance in the 12 bacterial isolates available from ill people. Testing of three outbreak isolates using standard antibiotic susceptibility testing methods by CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) laboratory confirmed these results.

Investigation of the Outbreak

Epidemiologic and traceback evidence indicate that contact with pet turtles is the likely source of this outbreak.

In interviews, ill people answered questions about animal contact in the week before they became ill. Of the 17 people interviewed, 12 (71%) reported contact with a pet turtle. Ill people reported buying pet turtles from pet stores or receiving them as a gift.

Ill people reported contact with red-eared sliders and other turtles that were larger than four inches in length. Previous Salmonella outbreaks have been linked to turtles with a shell length less than four inches. Due to the amount of Salmonella illnesses related to these small turtles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distributionexternal icon of turtles with shells less than four inches long as pets.

Regardless of where turtles are purchased or their size, turtles can carry Salmonella germs that can make people sick. Pet owners should always follow steps to stay healthy around their pet.

This investigation is ongoing, and CDC will provide updates when more information becomes available.