It has been about two and a half months since we got an update on the multistate Salmonella Agbeni outbreak, but on Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)  published an update that now shows an additional 29 cases  linked to contact with pet turtles have been reported.

Man holding small tortoise, close-up/CDC
Man holding small tortoise, close-up/CDC

This brings the total outbreak total to 66 cases from 18 states. Of 53 people with available information, 23 have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.

Epidemiologic and laboratory findings link the outbreak of human Salmonella Agbeni infections to contact with turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat.

  • In interviews, ill people answered questions about contact with animals during the week before becoming ill. Twenty (40%) of the 50 people interviewed reported contact with turtles or their environments, such as water from a turtle habitat, before getting sick.
  • Of the 20 ill people who had contact with turtles, 12 (60%) reported contact with small turtles that had a shell length of less than 4 inches. They reported purchasing the turtle from a street vendor or receiving the turtle as a gift.
  • In 2015, state and local health officials collected samples from turtles at a street vendor. Whole genome sequencing showed that the Salmonella Agbeni isolated from ill people in this outbreak is closely related genetically to the Salmonella Agbeni isolates from the turtles at the street vendor. This close genetic relationship means that human infections in this outbreak are likely linked to turtles.

CDC recommends that households with young children do not keep turtles or other reptiles as pets.

Handwashing is the best way to prevent illness. Wash your hands with soap and water right after handling or caring for small turtles or their tanks.

Since 1975, the FDA has banned selling and distributing turtles with shells less than 4 inches long as pets because they are often linked to Salmonella infections, especially in young children.

Black Friday Sneak Peek! Get 15% off sitewide with code: PBF12

All turtles, regardless of size, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they look healthy and clean. These outbreaks are a reminder to follow simple steps to enjoy pet reptiles and keep your family healthy.