Don’t kiss your turtle, CDC cautions after salmonella outbreak linked to the reptile

This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered an unusual piece of advice: Don’t kiss your pet turtle.

The statement came after 26 people in 11 states — including North Carolina — fell ill with salmonella linked to small turtles.

The CDC reported that two North Carolinians have confirmed cases of the bacterial disease, though the number is likely higher than officially reported because many people recover without receiving medical care or testing.

Salmonella can spread from pet turtles to humans if owners touch anything in the pet environment and then touch their mouth or food.

The agency reminded consumers to only buy turtles with shells longer than 4 inches — anything shorter is banned by federal law, due to their reputation for spreading illnesses, especially in young children.

They also cautioned against having any sized pet turtle if it will come into contact with children younger than 5, adults older than 65 or anyone with a compromised immune system.

Anyone with severe symptoms of salmonella should contact a doctor immediately, the CDC advised. Those symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea and a fever higher than 102°F

  • Diarrhea for more than three days that is not improving

  • Bloody diarrhea

  • So much vomiting that you cannot keep liquids down

  • Signs of dehydration

Teddy Rosenbluth covers science and health care for The News & Observer in a position funded by Duke Health and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. The N&O maintains full editorial control of the work.