Small pet turtles are behind a salmonella outbreak in Pennsylvania, according to state health officials who said at least one person has died as a result.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health in a news release on Wednesday announced that it is investigating nine laboratory-confirmed Salmonella Typhimurium illnesses that have primarily occurred in Philadelphia and Delaware counties.
The majority of cases have occurred among children 10 years of age or younger, officials said. At least one adult has died, with salmonellosis being “one of the contributing factors” in his or her death.
Four people affected by the outbreak told health officials that they purchased their turtles — identified as small red-eared sliders — from “transient street or roadside vendors,” with three of the reported vendors located in Philadelphia, health officials said in the announcement.
Salmonellosis is a potentially serious infection in the gastrointestinal tract, often causing diarrhea, fever, headache, nausea, and vomiting.
In a statement, Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam called the majority of cases occurring in children “concerning” because, she noted, “salmonella can be particularly serious for children.”
Indeed, “in addition, salmonellosis can cause severe illness (e.g., bloodstream infection, bone and joint infection, meningitis) and can be particularly serious for young children, the elderly, and persons with weak immune systems,” officials said in the news release.
Beam also noted that the state health department is working with the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention (CDC) in investigating the outbreak.
Turtles and other reptiles, even if they are healthy, are known to carry salmonella, sometimes shedding this bacteria in their feces. Humans who own reptiles can become infected with salmonella through direct contact with the animals, through their habitats, and also through “indirect contact by cross-contamination of objects and surfaces,” health officials said.
“Anyone who came into contact with a turtle and became ill should contact their health care provider to assure appropriate specimens are collected and treatment is administered if necessary. Sick individuals, health care providers, or laboratories can contact the Pennsylvania Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) or can contact their local health department,” per the release.