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Tiny Pet Turtles Continue to Spread Salmonella, Study Says

Update Date: Dec 24, 2015 11:13 AM EST

Tiny pet turtles continue to spread salmonella throughout the United States, a new study reported. According to public health officials, these pets still show up in homes even though the U.S. made it illegal to sell them forty years ago.

The officials reported on Wednesday that there were eight outbreaks tied to salmonella from these pet turtles between May 2011 and September 2013. The total number of cases from these outbreaks was 473 from 41 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. About 28 percent of the people who got sick from the bacteria had to be hospitalized.

The increase in the number of cases over the past decade suggests that people are no longer aware of the risks involved with handling reptiles and amphibians. Back in the 1970s, the turtles were tied to about 280,000 infections per year, mostly in young children. Since selling tiny turtles as pets has been banned, fewer infections were reported, which most likely led to less awareness about potential health risks involved.

When the outbreaks occurred, the officials had interviewed 95 patients and found that only 15 percent knew that reptiles are linked to salmonella.

The CDC experts stressed the importance of reminding people that they must wash their hands with antibacterial soap after they touch any kind of reptiles or amphibians. The CDC added that children under five should not have pet turtles at all since they have weakened immune systems, which could made a salmonella infection harder to beat.

"All turtles - healthy and sick, big and small - can carry Salmonella," lead author Dr. Maroya Walters, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said reported by Reuters. "Because young children have less developed immune systems and are more likely to engage in hand-to-mouth behaviors, turtles of any size are not appropriate pets for households, schools or daycares with children younger than 5 years of age."

"We treat every single turtle as if it's infected with salmonella," Susan Tellem, executive director and co-founder of American Tortoise Rescue, which is based in Malibu, CA, added reported by NPR.

Symptoms of a salmonella infection include fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

Tiny turtles, which are defined as having shells less than four inches long, can still legally sold for export, exhibition or educational purposes.

The data was published in the journal, Pediatrics.

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