Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Small Turtles

Illustration with a microscope and text reading Investigation Notice

Posted February 23, 2021

Fast Facts
  • Illnesses: 22
  • Hospitalizations: 8
  • Deaths: 1
  • States: 7
  • Investigation status: Active
Turtles and Salmonella

Pet turtles can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam.

You can get sick from touching your turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth and swallowing Salmonella germs.

What You Should Do

Always take these steps to stay healthy around your pet turtle:

  • Wash your hands
    • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for turtles or cleaning their habitats.
    • Adults should supervise handwashing for young children. Most people sick in this outbreak are children.
  • Play safely
    • Don’t kiss or snuggle turtles, and don’t eat or drink around them. This can spread Salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick.
    • Keep your turtle out of your kitchen and other areas where you eat, store, or prepare food.
  • Keep things clean
    • Clean all of your turtle supplies outside the house, if possible, including tanks, toys, and feeders.
    • If you clean the supplies indoors, don’t clean them in the kitchen or other areas where you eat or prepare food. Use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area right after.

If you are thinking of getting a pet turtle:

  • Do not buy small turtles with shells less than 4 inches long.
    • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration bansexternal icon the sale and distribution of these turtles. These turtles can sometimes be found illegally at stores, flea markets, and road side stands.
    • All sick people in this outbreak with information available had contact with a small turtle before they got sick, even with their sale being illegal.
  • Purchase or adopt pet turtles from reputable pet stores or pet rescues.
  • Pick the right pet for your family
    • Pet turtles are not recommended for households with children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems. These people are at greater risk for serious illness. If your household includes these people, you should consider picking a different pet for your family.

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these severe Salmonella symptoms:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F
  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days that is not improving
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down
  • Signs of dehydration, such as:
    • Not urinating (peeing) much
    • Dry mouth and throat
    • Feeling dizzy when standing up
What Businesses Should Do
Symptoms of Salmonella
  • Most people infected with Salmonella experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps.
    • Symptoms usually start 6 hours to 6 days after swallowing the bacteria.
    • Most people recover without treatment after 4 to 7 days.
  • Some people – especially children younger than 5 years, adults 65 years and older, and people with weakened immune systems – may experience more severe illnesses that require medical treatment or hospitalization.
  • For more information about Salmonella, see the Salmonella Questions and Answers page.