Pet turtles are making local kids sick. The number of salmonella cases connected to pet turtles has more than tripled this year in the Philly area.
The tiny turtles are carriers of salmonella, which can spread to people who touch the animal or it's environment.
Salmonella is a serious infection for children. It can send them to the hospital, and on rare occasion, it can be fatal.
The sale of small turtles in Philadelphia, either by a street vendor or in a pet store, is illegal.
The US Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of small turtles (shell size smaller than 4 inches) in 1975 because of the health risks.
Most of the turtles being sold illegally in Philadelphia are “red eared sliders.”
Since January, 30 cases of salmonella in the Philly area have been directly connected to pet turtles. That's compared to an average of 9 cases during most years.
The majority of cases have occurred in young children, including very young infants.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Donald F. Schwarz says, “No matter how cute a small turtle may look, it is not a good choice as a pet. Children often want to handle or kiss their turtles, and thereby accidentally infect themselves with Salmonella. If you see a street vendor selling turtles, resist the temptation to buy your child one!”
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has the following advice for anyone who is thinking about buying, currently has, or has come into contact with turtles:
- Do not buy small turtles (shell size smaller than 4 inches) for pets or as gifts.
- Keep turtles out of homes with children under 5 years old, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.
- If your family is expecting a baby, remove any pet turtle (or any other reptile or amphibian) from the home before the infant arrives.
- Do not clean turtle tanks or other supplies in the kitchen sink. Use bleach to disinfect areas where turtle habitats are cleaned.
- Always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching a turtle, its cage, or anything that comes into contact with a turtle or its housing.
- Do not allow turtles to roam freely through the house, especially in food preparation areas.
- If you currently have a small turtle, the Health Department urges you to humanely dispose of it, especially if your household has young children or a person with a weakened immune system. Call the Philadelphia Animal Care and Control Association at 215-685-9000 to surrender the turtle. Releasing turtles into the wild is a violation of Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations.