The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Salmonella risk chance to teach safe habits


September 5, 2017

Tucked inside a hard, ornate shell, with leathery skin, bright eyes, slow, deliberate movements and generally peaceful dispositions, turtles are just plain cool.

Pairing these turtle traits with kids is near perfect — easy going, while at the same time fascinating to little eyes and hungry minds, many a turtle has found its way into the bedroom aquarium of a young one as a first pet.

Unfortunately, more has been learned in recent years about some of the downsides of exposing children to turtles and reptiles, and a recent outbreak of salmonella has led to a renewed education push.

Classified as a multi-state outbreak linked specifically to pet turtles, between May and August, 37 cases of human salmonella infection were reported in 13 states, according to a Center for Disease Control news release.

Of those cases, 16 individuals were hospitalized and luckily, none have resulted in fatalities.

For most people, salmonella, a bacterial infection, while certainly unpleasant, is not a life-threatening issue and recovery happens about a week from the onset of symptoms.

But for some, an infection can be far more dire.

Commonly referred to as food poisoning, salmonella is a specific bacteria that can be contracted from numerous sources.

Characterized by abdominal cramping, fever and diarrhea, particularly in young children, older people and those with compromised immune systems, untreated salmonella infections can spread into the bloodstream and result in death.

Food items such as eggs, poultry, meat and vegetables can be contaminated with salmonella, hence the food poisoning designation.

However perfectly healthy, living creatures too — in particular poultry animals, reptiles, turtles, their water and items in their habitats — can be sources while giving no indication whatsoever they are carriers.

The danger salmonella poses for young children, coupled with the fact turtles are known carriers of the bacteria and a common pet of choice for kids have fueled an ongoing CDC campaign to educate the public.

Prone to unconsciously rubbing their faces and sticking their fingers in their mouths, kids are prime candidates for infection, and because of their small size and lesser physical reserves with which to fight, they also face greater risks once illness sets in.

In light of the recent outbreak, the CDC interviewed nine of the people infected and found the majority had purchased turtles from street vendors, flea markets or had been gifted them.

CDC recommendations for avoiding turtle-related salmonella include:

• Households with young children are discouraged from keeping turtles or reptiles as pets.

• Avoid physical contact between children and turtles or their environments. Habitat cleaning and contact should be left to adults.

• Hand washing is the best way to prevent illness. Always wash with soap and water after touching a turtle or anything in its habitat.

• Don’t purchase turtles smaller than 4 inches (the sale of which was banned in 1975 by the FDA) and always purchase turtles from a reputable, trusted source.

Fear of turtles, however, is not the answer to cautionary campaigns such as this one. Even with well-advised caution and as important as it is to protect children and avoid unnecessary illness, carelessly discarding or harming pet turtles is not a solution.

Rather, it’s a potential teaching moment with opportunity to instill in children the responsibility of safe habits that protect from dangers while still appreciating and enjoying the natural world — from a position of respect.

Sharna Johnson is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: [email protected]


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