Owning any pet turtle can put you at risk for contracting salmonella. Reptiles, including turtles, and amphibians naturally carry the bacteria responsible for salmonella infections on their bodies. As a result, contact with the skin or shells of these animals can lead to health problems, particularly for vulnerable populations. Most people, however, can use simple precautions and safely handle turtles or other reptiles without serious risk.
Salmonella infections are most commonly caused by food and water contamination, but the bacteria can be spread through contact with animals and infected feces. The infection mainly causes gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
- Bloody stool
You can also have chills, headaches and fever with the infection.
Typically, symptoms begin to appear within 72 hours of infection. For most healthy people, the illness runs its course in a few days and causes no lasting harm even without additional treatment. Some people, however, are more at risk for contracting salmonella and for suffering from complications associated with the illness.
Salmonella infections can lead to life-threatening complications, including dehydration and bacteremia. Dehydration occurs due to severe diarrhea while bacteremia happens when the infection spreads into your bloodstream and travels to other parts of your body.
Salmonella Vulnerable Groups
Because turtles are natural carriers of salmonella bacteria, you should not keep them as pets in homes where people who are more vulnerable to infection and complications also live. These groups include:
- Children under age 5
- Elderly individuals
- Organ transplant recipients
- Anyone with a compromised immune system
- Pregnant women
If you have gastrointestinal problems already, such as inflammatory bowel disease, you are at greater risk of contracting salmonella because the strong stomach acids that normally kill the bacteria in healthy people may be minimized in your body.
Reducing Risks for Turtle Owners
Since your pet turtle is likely to be a carrier of the salmonella bacteria, you need to take the following precautions to avoid infection:
- Wash your hands with warm water and soap immediately after touching your turtle.
- Clean your turtle's habitat outside.
- Use disposable gloves to clean the habitat.
- Do not pour your turtle's drinking water or water used for cleaning the habitat down the kitchen or bathroom sink.
- Wash clothing that has come in contact with the turtle.
- Disinfect any surface your turtle has touched.
- Keep your turtle away from areas where food is prepared or consumed.
- Do not allow your turtle to roam freely around your home.
- Never place your turtle in the sinks in your bathroom or kitchen or in your bathtub.
- Do not eat or drink while having contact or immediately after contact with the turtle.
- Never put the turtle near or in your mouth – this is particularly common with children. .