Salmonella From Your Pet?
When we hear about salmonella these days, we're more likely to think raw eggs than reptiles. But this article in the current issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reminds us that your family's pet turtles (and other reptiles) can make people just as sick as an undercooked omelet can.
Salmonella infection generally causes diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps, starting 12 to 72 hours after exposure. It makes you feel sick as a dog, and the illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days. Most people get better without requiring treatment, but some have to head to the hospital, and, in rare cases, some die.
Following up on scattered reports of salmonella-related illness in several states, researchers took a closer look at 70 people -- kids and adults -- who'd recently been sickened by salmonella. Sixty-three percent -- 44 people -- reported they'd been exposed to a turtle shortly before becoming sick. Of these, 37 said the turtle in question was smaller than four inches. Twenty-eight said they'd held or touched a turtle; 29 had simply had contact with a turtle's living quarters. While 24 people said they'd fed a turtle during the week before they got sick, four said they'd either kissed the turtle or put the turtle in their mouth(!).
All this, despite the fact that since 1975 it has been illegal to sell a turtle whose shell measures four inches or less. Larger turtles, other reptiles and amphibians also commonly carry salmonella, but the report notes that tiny turtles are more likely to be handled by small children and, yes, kissed than, say, your average iguana.
Turns out people are still buying tiny turtles, at flea markets and on-line sites, from friends and street vendors, and even, in one instance, from a pet store. A loophole in the law allows the sale of small turtles for educational and lab purposes.
I know, I know: tiny turtles are cute. Like many people my age, I fondly remember owning a few of the little critters myself. But that was before we knew they could make us sick. Nowadays, I can't fathom why anyone would take the risk.
(Speaking of reptile risks, check out this scale-raising story by The Post's Joel Achenbach about exotic pets gone wild.)
So what's your take on pets that can make you sick? Have you avoided getting a dog or cat because someone's allergic? (Watch for Thursday's Checkup, when Rob will come back with an alternative viewpoint.)
And, while we're at it, do you regularly kiss your pets?
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