Killer Turtles

If you’ve already taken a peek at my About Me page, you might have noticed I’m an animal lover. There’s a picture of one of my many fur-kids hanging out there, looking adorable. I also have feathered and finny friends keeping her company. I do lots of animal rescue and even foster some cuties until they find permanent homes; it’s kinda one of my hobbies.

  Boss – foster guinea pig

So I understand when some extremely charming little face worms its way into your heart and you just CAN’T say no. However….fun-killer that I am….did you know that precious little baby could make you sick? Just because of how teeny tiny it is? Or just because it naturally carries bacteria that causes illness in humans. It’s true, my friends. Read on.

What I’m referring to by bacterial transmission here is through reptiles, a very common source of Salmonella. Other pets can carry diseases, but their transmission to humans (called zoonosis) is not as common. However the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has many documented cases of illness and hospitalization from Salmonella illness due to contact from reptiles. More info on Salmonellosis: 

You can get infected from lizards, frogs (ok technically an amphibian), snakes, and especially from turtles. The biggest area of concern is to children, especially to children under the age of 5. This is because small children have weaker immune systems, they tend to put things in their mouths (like small turtles), and they aren’t too great at hand washing.

There is actually a federal law banning the sale of turtles smaller than four inches. Reputable pet stores do not sell them, and will usually try to include info on safe handling and hand washing. They are still regularly for sale though, at flea markets and places that are under the radar. Between 2006 and 2014, there were 15 multistate outbreaks linked to Salmonella, due to turtle transmission. You never knew those little guys could be so toxic!

In those outbreaks, 921 people became ill and one baby died. Not all the people handled the turtles directly; some just got sick from having them in the house. That’s because the bacteria is spread through feces, so if you are just cleaning a cage, feeding the animal, etc. you can spread the germs around. In 2011 there was an outbreak due to African frogs; 241 people were sick in that outbreak and most were children. The latest report from CDC in August of 2017, due again to turtles, notes 37 people sick from 13 states since March. About 1/3 of those were kids under 5.

What can you do, if you love reptiles and you want to protect your family? First, it’s best to assume your scaly kid is carrying the bacteria; just handle him or her carefully and take precautions. Try following these food safety practices:

  • Always wash your hands after handling your pet, and after cleaning its cage or feeding, etc.
  • Children younger than 5 and people older than 65 shouldn’t handle reptiles or their cages or equipment
  • Keep your reptiles out of the kitchen or anywhere food is stored or prepared
  • I know it’s tempting, but don’t kiss your reptile (or amphibian!)
  • Don’t purchase turtles less than 4 inches in length
  • Don’t catch wild animals and keep them as pets (it’s illegal anyway)
  • Don’t release unwanted animals into the wild – please, for goodness sakes people. This is a terrible idea!
  • For some other good info on handling reptiles:

Reptiles and amphibians can make great pets, especially for people who might have allergies to fur, for example. Many people find them fascinating and even cute. There’s no reason you can’t have your snake, and cuddle him too.

With good safety precautions and sanitation, you can still love those slithery, crawly little critters. All creatures deserve love and respect! Just be sure you and your human family are getting the love too. So give ‘em a cricket, from me (yum).



About foodsleuth

I’m a food safety specialist with over 20 years’ experience of restaurant inspection experience. I dabble in writing too for fun. I love to cook (for my family and friends), to eat, and to critique restaurants (unprofessionally)!

This entry was posted in Disease Facts, Pets and Disease and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *