The resulting consternation was small by food-borne-illness standards, but the 2007 salmonella outbreak was the country's largest to date involving turtles. And it has proven to be excellent fodder for researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and elsewhere to assess just how those infections came about.
Of 107 people sickened in the outbreak, the median age was 7, the researchers reported online today in the journal Pediatrics. As for the turtles, 87% were the cute little kind that kids just have to have and that they'll take really, really good care of, they promise; 34% were bought in a pet store.
One of the more interesting facts in the abstract and in an Associated Press story is that many people were unaware of the salmonella risk posed by turtles. (The Associated Press also reports that two girls swam with the turtles.)
Interesting, considering that references to salmonella and turtles are fairly ubiquitous and have been for, oh, more than three decades now.... In fact, here's a CDC fact page on the matter. It begins: Is a turtle the right pet for your family?
The answer: "Did you know that the sale of turtles less than 4 inches has been banned in the United States since 1975? This is because turtles pose a high risk of spreading disease, especially to children. The ban by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of salmonellosis annually in children. This ban prohibiting the sale of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis."
So the answer would be no?
Here's the earlier news story about the outbreak: Salmonella carried by pet turtles sickens 100.
And here's a recent in-depth look from staff writer Karen Kaplan at the organism behind the outbreak: There's no escaping salmonella. It begins, quite notably: "This is salmonella’s world. We’re just living in it."
-- Tami Dennis
Photo: What's on that turtle? Perhaps salmonella. Credit: Karen Tapia-Anderson