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Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Turtles?

Zoonar/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Many children love caring for small pets such as turtles or lizards. But could having them around boost children's risks of contracting Salmonella infection? The answer is yes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC says reptiles (such as turtles, snakes and lizards) and amphibians (such as frogs and toads) can be a source of Salmonella in humans.  These creatures can easily pick up Salmonella germs lurking in their tanks or aquariums after being shed in their own droppings.

"Many people don't know that turtles and other reptiles can carry harmful germs that can make people very sick. For this reason, turtles and other reptiles might not be the best pets for your family, especially if there are children 5-years-old and younger or people with weakened immune systems living in your home," Casey Barton Behravesh DVM, DrPH, Deputy Chief of the CDC's Outbreak Response and Prevention Branch said in a CDC release.

The CDC warning comes as the agency, along with government and state health officials, is launching a collaborative investigation into six overlapping, multistate human Salmonella outbreaks.  The CDC says the outbreaks are linked to turtles or their habitats.

More than 160 Salmonella illnesses have been reported from 30 states, 64 percent of those cases have occurred in children age 10 or younger.  Twenty-seven percent of the cases reported in children have been in infants one year or younger, the CDC says. Fifty-six percent are hispanic.

The CDC suggests these tips when handling turtles and other reptiles:

  • Don’t buy small turtles from street vendors, websites, pet stores, or other sources.
  • Keep reptiles out of homes with young children or people with weakened immune systems.
  • Reptiles should not be kept in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with young children.

ALWAYS wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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