Pet Turtle Warning From CDC, Here Is The Latest Salmonella Outbreak


What the shell? Red-eared slider tortoises appear to be one of the culprits in an ongoing Salmonella … [+]

AFP/Getty Images

Oh, shell no. The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) announced that pet turtles may be the source of a Salmonella Oranienburg outbreak that has already sickened at least 21 people in 13 states and hospitalized seven. Fortunately, no one has died yet. But a Salmonella infection can get you sick and in some cases even kill, which would be a turtle disaster.

The first reported illness in this outbreak began on May 29 of this year. I’ve written multiple times for Forbes about how you can’t stand Salmonella, ella, ella, eh, eh, eh, uh, oh, because it may cause fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. It can even cause death in those with weaker immune systems, such as young-uns and older-uns.

So far, public health officials have interviewed 17 of those who have gotten sick in this outbreak. Twelve of them reported having had contact with pet turtles. In this case, contact means direct physical contact and not a phone call, texting, or sharing shell-fies. Of course, the remaining five could have had surreptitious rendezvous with turtles. Only they know for sure. Nevertheless, 71% is enough to turn the spotlight towards our reptilian friends.

Turtles, as you know, are awesome. They play important roles in our ecosystem, have hard protective shells that protect them like shields, and rarely flame people on social media. But one problem with turtles, besides not being great at holding conversations at Happy Hours, is that they can carry Salmonella in their droppings even when they appear healthy and clean. In other words, even if a turtle tells you, “I feel fine, dude,” that doesn’t mean that the turtle can’t spread Salmonella on to anything that the turtle has touched.

Therefore, even though turtles may look adorable, be careful around them. Wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve high-fived a turtle or handled their possessions. Don’t kiss or snuggle with a turtle. Exchange winks or knowing glances instead.

“Don’t kiss me. Don’t do it.” This tortoise has the right idea. (Photo: Getty Images)


Do not tell turtles to prepare dinner, no matter how tired you are. They may end up preparing some really weird dishes and shouldn’t be going anywhere near something that you may put in your mouth.

In general, keep these reptiles “turtlely” away from children under five years of age, adults 65 years of age and older, and anyone else with a weaker immune system. Salmonella infections can be more serious and more likely to be deadly in such folks. Moreover, young kids as well as some people much older may be less able to control themselves such as not washing their hands and putting things in their mouths.

Take turtle ownership seriously. Don’t consider getting a pet turtle unless you really know how to take care of our buddies. Turtles have been around for over 200 million years. But sadly, National Geographic Kids reported that, “129 of approximately 300 species of turtle and tortoise on Earth today are either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered according to the IUCN,” which stands for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Yes, in just a short time, humans may killing off species that have endured for such a long time, because of environmental change, poaching and illegal pet trade. Yet more reasons why people can really stink.

Additionally, if you want to get a pet turtle, size does matter. After noticing that Salmonella outbreaks seemed to be associated with smaller turtles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this year banned the sales and distribution of turtles with shells less than four inches long. So if someone tries to sell you a tiny turtle, don’t shell out the cash.

The FDA has banned the sales of tiny turtles. (Photo: Getty Images)


If the past two years have “tortoise” anything, you have to be wary of Salmonella and take proper and maybe even extra precautions. As I have written before for Forbes, last year saw far more Salmonella outbreaks than any other year in recent memory. This begs the question of whether monitoring of possible sources of Salmonella has gone down or some fundamental changes in our environment have occurred. Regardless, the increase in Salmonella outbreaks since 2017 seems like an elephant in the room or maybe a hedgehog, a chicken, or a turtle that needs to be discussed.