130 illnesses linked to turtles, Salmonella

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More than 130 people, most of whom are young children, were reported to have become ill during a 2011 salmonellosis outbreak that was likely connected with illegally sold turtles.

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in early February that people in at least 18 states had been infected with a variant of Salmonella enterica serotype Paratyphi during the outbreak, with illness reports between Aug. 5 and Sept. 26, 2011. All patients survived the illnesses. Of 56 patients interviewed, 36 recalled exposure to turtles.

Of 15 who remembered the type of turtle contacted, 14 identified turtles with carapace lengths of less than 4 inches. Federal regulations prohibit the sale of such turtles.

Investigators also isolated the outbreak strain from water samples taken from five turtle aquariums in patient homes.

About 66 percent of reported infections occurred in children less than 10 years old.

"Investigation to trace the source of these turtles is difficult because the vendors are transient," the CDC report states. "These cases illustrate that small turtles remain a source of human Salmonella infections, especially for young children."

The Food and Drug Administration has, since 1975, prohibited most sales of pet turtles with carapaces less than 4 inches long, because the reptiles are believed to be connected with childhood Salmonella infections. Exceptions are granted for educational, scientific, and exhibition uses.

"Regulating the sale of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis," the report states.

In March 2010, a federal judge ordered the FDA to review the turtle sale regulations, but the regulations remain in place. The ruling was delivered in a civil suit filed by the Independent Turtle Farmers of Louisiana, which had challenged the regulations.