I was recently traveling to a medical meeting and often use my airplane time to catch up on my journal reading. An article from Pediatrics discussing the issue of pet turtles and salmonella infections caught my eye.
In this study of a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella (a bacteria that causes vomiting and diarrhea) in 2007 and 2008, the long known link between turtles and salmonella was being reviewed. Of 107 patients identified from 34 states, over 50% were less than 10 years of age, and 60% of 78 patients who were available for interviews reported exposure to turtles the week before they became ill. It also seems that small turtles (I had them when I was growing up), accounted for 87% of the exposures.
Sales of small turtles have been banned by the FDA since 1975 (I am really showing my age), but are currently being sold over the internet, in flea markets and even in some retail stores, without any warnings of possible salmonella infection. In fact, some people will advertise “salmonella free” turtles which have never been bred.
Due to this there has been an increase in small turtle ownership over the last 10 years and up to 6% of salmonella infections in the U.S. are due to reptile contact rather than from food -borne sources. In fact, those small turtles are not the only source of salmonella infections, but all reptiles may carry this organism including iguanas, other lizards and even snakes. (okay, I have to admit with three sons we had all of these during their childhood, not knowing they could cause illness).
Another interesting fact is that you do not even have to touch the reptile, (which I hated to do), but cleaning the water and the aquarium (which WAS often my job!) is also a source of exposure.
So, few parents and obviously this pediatricians are aware of the fact that salmonella infections from reptiles are actually on the rise. It’s not just those small turtles that live in the bowl with the palm tree, but all of those reptiles pose a risk for infection.
As parents do know, it is hard to keep children from touching or playing with the turtle, or iguana and hand washing right after touching a pet often does not occur. No one likes vomiting and diarrhea, and it may not always be due to the food at the picnic!
That's your daily dose for today. We'll chat again tomorrow.