Small turtles are undoubtedly cute – but they’re also sickening.
That’s the warning from U.S. federal health officials, released Wednesday.
Between January 2015 and April of this year, four multi-state outbreaks of salmonella were caused by touching small, adorable turtles.
Overall, 133 individuals across 26 states have become ill, with 38 needing hospitalization. Numbers are expected to rise.
“The outbreak is expected to continue at a low level for the next several months since people might be unaware of the risk of Salmonella infection from small turtles,” the CDC said in an investigation update.
The small turtles are having a big influence, and are being taken seriously. The CDC is working alongside the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal entities to investigate the issue.
“Initial investigations have identified four turtle farms in Louisiana as potential sources of the turtles linked to these 2015 outbreaks. Pond water testing from the four farms resulted in the identification of additional non-outbreak Salmonella isolates,” the World Health Organization (WHO) states.
Turtles carry the bacteria on their skin and shells, but are immune from the illness. Children often touch the turtles, and then put their hands in their mouths, transferring the bacteria.
Symptoms appear 12-72 hours later, and include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps.
Children under five and people over 65, and those with weak immune systems, are most susceptible to a severe salmonella infection.
The sale of turtles was actually banned by the FDA in 1975, but that hasn’t stopped outbreaks like this. Last month, the WHO said reptiles exposed to salmonella may have been exported internationally. They’ve asked for countries importing pet reptiles to keep an eye out for infected animals.