The trouble with turtles

The trouble with turtles

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Jan 26, 2009
By dvm360.com staff

On Jan. 21, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced they'd traced the recent Salmonella outbreak to a peanut-processing plant in Blakely, Ga. While this news was reassuring, it shouldn't diminish clients’ awareness of Salmonella poisoning. If your clients house turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, or salamanders, their family members—including children, other pets, and themselves—are at risk of being exposed to Salmonella.

Reptiles’ skin and shells are often contaminated with the bacteria, which can lead to serious illness and even life-threatening infections. So why focus on the turtle if all these animals spread the risk? Stephen Sundlof, who heads the FDA’s center for veterinary medicine, says that unlike other reptiles, turtles are marketed to children.

Besides having weaker immune systems, children—and pets—take fewer precautions when dealing with reptiles. Kids wash their hands less often and are more likely to put turtles, especially baby ones, in their mouths. In fact, small turtles increase children's risk of Salmonella infection so much that in 1975, the FDA banned the sale of turtles with shells less than four inches long.

The FDA's public reminder of the possible dangers pet turtles and their environments pose give your team an client-education opportunity. Talk to your reptile-loving pet owners about how to safely handle turtles. For more information on pet turtles and how to prevent the spread of Salmonella bacteria, visit fda.gov/cvm/turtles.htm.

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