Getting cozy with your pet turtle may not be a good idea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week, public health officials advise people reluctant to “kiss or cuddle” their armored companions after multi-state outbreaks of salmonella linked to tiny turtles.
26 people in 11 states have become ill from the outbreak and nine have had to be hospitalized. No deaths have been reported, but more than 30% of cases involve children under the age of 5, who can be severely affected by infection.
While turtles of any size can transmit Salmonella, the CDC said animals less than four inches long were banned by federal law in 1975 because they had caused “many diseases, especially among young children.”
Still, smaller breeds are “illegally available online and in stores, flea markets, and street stalls,” which is why the CDC advised people to buy animals only from reputable sources.
The agency noted that even healthy-looking turtles can spread germs, so pet owners should be vigilant about hand washing and general hygiene.
It also warned against eating near pet turtles and warned people to keep turtles away from areas where one is eating, storing or preparing food.
Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. Although not usually serious, it can cause complications in children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.
According to the CDC, 26,500 Americans are hospitalized and 420 people die from illnesses related to salmonella infections each year.
While turtles have caused health problems in the past, they aren’t the only pets linked to salmonella outbreaks.