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Illegal pet turtles causing salmonella outbreaks

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Thursday, December 24, 2015, 9:49 AM

MADE NAGI/EPA

Illegal pet turtles continue to cause salmonella outbreaks across the country.

The turtles, smaller than 4 inches, have been banned as pets since 1975, yet they remain easy to find. A little too easy considering 473 people fell ill just between 2011 and 2013, according to a new study in Pediatrics.

“These outbreaks were in 41 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, so this is a big, widespread issue,” lead researcher Maroya Walters, an epidemiologist with the CDC, told WebMD.

Far more people — doctors estimate 16 for each case reported — actually became sick, but did not seek treatment.

People continue to get sick from the turtles because they’re available for education and research purposes and sold illegally as pets.

Still, the ban has helped. Before it was enacted, about 280,000 people were sickened each year.

ER doctors say they see salmonella cases on a daily basis. The median age of patients is 4, and about a quarter of these children need to be hospitalized and treated with antibiotics.

The common link among those struck with the nasty bacteria is that within a week of falling sick, 68% of the patients had contact with a turtle. Of those patients, 88% said it was a small turtle.

What’s striking is that people did not need to handle the reptile.

“You don’t actually have to hold the turtle or touch its aquarium or water to get sick, but cross-contamination of surfaces can cause illness as well,” Walters said.

All turtles can carry salmonella and transmit it to people. Salmonella has been found in chicken, tomatoes and peanuts and flourishes in the intestines of animals and humans.

It causes food poisoning and symptoms can be mild but it can kill vulnerable people.

jcutler@nydailynews.com

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