January 05, 2016
1 min read

Children at highest risk for contracting Salmonella from turtles

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Children, particularly those aged younger than 5 years, and Hispanics were most affected by multistate outbreaks of Salmonella derived from small turtles from 2011 to 2013, according to recent research in Pediatrics.

“Despite an ongoing federal ban against their sale as pets, small turtles are a significant source of human illness,” Casey Barton Behravesh, MS, DVM, DrPH, captain in the U.S. Public Health Service and director of the CDC’s One Health Office, and colleagues wrote. “Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations identified small turtles as the source of eight Salmonella outbreaks involving 473 confirmed illnesses, mostly in young children.”

Behravesh Casey

Casey Barton Behravesh

The researchers conducted investigations to determine the epidemiology, environmental factors and traceback infections related to Salmonella acquired from small turtles. They investigated for Salmonella molecular subtypes that included: Sandiego, Pomona, Poona, Typhimurium and Enterica serotype I 4,[5],12:i:−. To determine these subtypes, the researchers tested water from turtle habitats associated with infections.

The investigators wrote that eight outbreaks resulted in 473 Salmonella infections in 41 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico during the study period. Seven of these outbreaks were associated with turtles. Forty-five percent of the infections occurred among Hispanics, with children aged younger than 18 years accounting for 74% of infections. The researchers said 55% of infections occurred among children aged younger than 5 years and 23% among children aged younger than 1 year.

California contained the greatest number of case-patients with Salmonella infections (n = 106), followed by New York (n = 55) and Texas (n = 45), according to the study.

Study data also showed that 68% of infected patients reported turtle exposure within 1 week of infection, with 88% of the turtles classified as small.

“Given the large pediatric population affected, pediatricians and their staff are uniquely well positioned to educate families about steps they can take to reduce the risk of turtle-acquired Salmonella,” Behravesh and colleagues wrote. “To reduce the number of illicitly marketed small pet turtles, state and local jurisdictions should consider enacting regulations against the sale of small pet turtles to complement federal enforcement activities.” – by David Costill

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.