Health authorities determined that contact with turtles was associated with a Salmonella Typhimurium outbreak that caused 135 illnesses but no deaths in 2008.
An article published in the February 26, 2010, issue of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that individuals in 25 states and Washington, D.C., were affected between March and October 2008, with 78 percent of cases occurring between June and September. Median age of the 124 patients for which demographic information was available was 7.
In July and August 2008, PulseNet, a network of public health and food regulatory agency laboratories coordinated by the CDC, received information that eight people in Philadelphia had become ill with indistinguishable S Typhimurium strains; five of those patients reported exposure to turtles.
In interviews with 70 primary patients—as opposed to secondary patients infected following suspected person-to-person transmission—26 reported exposure to turtles, and seven reported contact with other reptiles, the report states. Three of six water samples taken from turtle habitats in patients' homes contained the outbreak strain.
An editorial note accompanying the report indicates the 2008 outbreak was the third since 2006 that was both associated with turtles and that included patients in multiple states. The outbreaks together included about 260 laboratory-confirmed Salmonella-related illnesses. No such large turtle-associated outbreaks were identified before 2006. The identification of the recent outbreaks could be associated with improved ability to detect outbreaks and increased turtle ownership, the latter of which doubled between 1996 and 2006.
Although 63 percent of the primary patients interviewed in connection with the most recent outbreak had no known turtle exposure, the editorial note indicates parents may have been unaware of children's exposure to turtles outside their homes or of indirect exposure through their environments and other people.
It has been illegal since 1975 to sell turtles with shell lengths of less than four inches other than for than scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes. But the report states that street vendors and flea markets, common sources of illegal sales, were connected with the illnesses in the recent outbreak.