Contact Info: Colin T. Campbell, Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program
Phone: 609-826-4872; Email: colin.campbell@doh.state.nj.us
Michelle Malavet, Infectious and Zoonotic Disease Program
Phone: 609-827-5964; Email: michelle.malavet@doh.state.nj.us

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is reporting that there are 6 ongoing multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infection linked with exposure to small turtles or their environments (e.g., water from a turtle habitat).

One hundred forty nine (149) ill persons have been identified in 28 states. Illness onset dates range from August 3, 2011 to May 24, 2012. Ill persons range in age from less than 1 year to 86 years, with a median age of 8 years. Seventy two percent (72%) of ill persons reported exposure to turtles prior to their illness. Ninety four percent (94%) of ill persons with turtle exposure specifically reported exposure to small turtles (shell length less than 4 inches). Thirty three percent (33%) of ill persons with small turtles reported purchasing the turtles from street vendors, and 22% reported purchasing small turtles from pet stores.

Seven (7) New Jersey residents have been identified in 2 of the 6 outbreaks. Some of the New Jersey cases have been linked to transient street vendors selling small turtles in predominantly Spanish speaking neighborhoods.

Small turtles are a well known source of human Salmonella infections, especially among young children. Because of this risk, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned the sale and distribution of these turtles as pets since 1975. In New Jersey, the sale or distribution of turtles of any size is prohibited: although the Commissioner of Health may waive this prohibition of live turtles with a carapace length of four inches or greater if they are sold or distributed for the purposes of research, other zoological purposes or for food. Turtles should not be purchased as pets or given as gifts.

The CDC has posted information on the outbreaks with links to public health advice for consumers on their website, http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-03-12/index.html. Attached are copies of an educational flyer: "After you touch amphibians or reptiles, wash your hands so you don't get sick," written in both English and Spanish to distribute to at risk populations in your jurisdiction.