CHICAGO — Two girls who swam with pet turtles in a backyard pool were among 107 people sickened in the largest salmonella outbreak blamed on turtles nationwide, researchers report.
The 2007-08 outbreak involved mostly children in 34 states; one-third of all patients had to be hospitalized. In many cases, parents didn't know that turtles can carry salmonella.
Despite a 1975 ban on selling turtles less than 4 inches in diameter as pets, they continue to be sold illegally. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates the number of pet turtles nationally doubled from 1996 to almost 2 million in 2006.
"It's very easy to think of turtles as being a very gentle and nice pet," but many carry salmonella, without showing any signs, said Julie Harris, a scientist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and lead author of the report, published in October's Pediatrics.
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Salmonella in turtle feces can end up on their shells and body, and can spread to people who handle them. The infected turtles were bought at pet shops, flea markets and online.