Dear Tommy Turtle: Our son wants to adopt a turtle from his friend, who has become bored with his pet. Is there any reason not to say okay?
Tommy Responds: Many pet turtles carry Salmonella bacteria, which can cause bloody diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain in humans. Youngsters are most often affected. So take into account your son’s age and level of responsibility as you make a decision.
Between 2006 and 2014, turtle Salmonella sickened 921 Americans, 156 of whom required hospitalization. One infant died.
The Salmonella bacteria commonly carried by clean, apparently healthy turtles will contaminate turtle habitats, water and food. Therefore, if your son adopts a turtle, he must refrain from kissing or snuggling it, and he must wash his hands immediately after touching the turtle or its habitat.
The turtle’s habitat must be washed somewhere other than the kitchen, preferably outdoors, to prevent Salmonella contamination of food preparation areas and bathroom sinks.
People with weak immune systems, children under five years of age and the elderly should not touch turtles or their habitats. Turtles with shells less than four inches long are most associated with infection, so they may not be sold.