Which Types of Turtles Carry Salmonella?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70,000 people in the U.S. each year get salmonellosis from contact with reptiles. Snakes, frogs and turtles are popular pets but turtles are hands-down charmers of young children--the very population at risk for contracting salmonella from their pet. The overwhelming majority of all types of turtle, tested in studies cited by the CDC and elsewhere, are carriers of salmonella. They do not always shed the virus and can be handled while taking precautions that minimize the risk of human infection.

  1. Sliders

    • Red Eared Sliders are the most common of the slider turtles sold as pets and they are the infamous species at the center of the uproar over salmonella that resulted in laws about selling turtles. During the 1970s, very small children put the tiniest pet turtles in their mouths and contracted salmonella. Today it is illegal to sell a pet turtle with a carapace under four inches long. But there is no law against owning under-sized turtles. It's a murky legal morass. Sliders are wonderful pets and do well in indoor tanks so, if you own one, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water every time you handle it, feed it, clean its tank or have any contact with it.

    Box Turtles

    • Box turtles are squarish, slow-moving reptiles with high-domed shells. They are both terrestrial and territorial--they tend not to wander far from home. A box turtle can live indoors or out--it requires a large pen with a shaded area, so it can escape the hot sun. The turtle will eat just about anything and likes to meander around the house. Keep it away from food preparation areas, wash your hands after you feed it--especially if you hand-feed it--and thoroughly clean any area where the turtle has been, with soap and water or a non-toxic disinfectant.

    Painted Turtles

    • Painted turtles are pretty, with dark green skin marked with red and yellow stripes. They are aquatic turtles and can grow up to ten inches long. Painteds love to eat lettuce, fish, chicken and special turtle food sticks. They also love to bask half-in, half-out of the water. As turtles are very messy pets, this behavior means you should clean a painted turtle's habitat frequently--maybe more than once a day. If you handle the inevitably dirty water in the turtle's habitat, you must liberally dose yourself with soap and water afterward. And do not clean the turtle's dishes or aquarium in the kitchen sink. If you have to use the bath tub, disinfect it immediately.

    Mud Turtles

    • Mud turtles stay quite small--about five inches is their max--so they are favored candidates for indoor tanks. They like a damp, sandy or muddy habitat and, because they are semi-terrestrial they will need a large tank with spacious, dry basking area, a nice, muddy area for winter hibernation and clean fresh water for swimming. They can live to be 50-years-old with the right care. Mud turtles would seem to be good candidates for the science corner in a classroom as they are long-lived and use such a varied environment. But this isn't a good idea because they need constant cleaning and tending and there is too much risk of children handling the turtle or its tank, and forgetting to wash their hands.


    • The FDA warns against in your home if there are elderly people or children under five living there; if anyone in the home is expecting a child; anyone is under treatment for cancer or HIV/AIDS or other immune system diseases, is diabetic,suffering from liver problems, undergoing chemotherapy or has received an organ transplant. All turtles should be removed from any home before a new baby arrives, says the FDA.

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  • Photo Credit turtle 2 image by Stjepan Banovic from Fotolia.com

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