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Four things turtle owners should know about pet turtles and Salmonella

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Every so often, you will hear from the media about the risks of Salmonella from pet turtles. Sometimes the news sounds dire and scary, but the risks are not new and they can be managed. Here are four things you should know about turtles and Salmonella, including red eared sliders.

1. Pet Turtles and Salmonella is Not a New Problem

Thought the scary headlines that crop up every now an then, Salmonella from pet turtles is not a new problem. In fact, the ban on selling hatchling turtles in the US was enacted back in 1975, largely in response to infections from pet turtles, which were widely available back then. As mentioned below, the risk is real and should be taken seriously, but the fact that we have known turtles can carry Salmonella for years gives some perspective. Remember that many, many people have lived with pet turtles and never had problems.

2. Salmonella Isn't Unique to Turtles

Turtles have been given undue attention when it comes to the issue of Salmonella, since turtles are not the only animals that can carry Salmonella. Actually, It is prudent to assume that any reptile or amphibians carry Salmonella bacteria (it is considered a normal part of their bacterial flora). In addition, Salmonella can be carried by many other pets, including cats and dogs, rodents, hedgehogs, and other species too.

3. The Risk is Real, but Preventative Measures can Prevent Problems

The risk of Salmonella should be taken seriously, especially if you have young children or people with compromised immune systems in the household. In these members of the family, Salmonella infections can be very serious (The Centers for Disease Control recommend not keeping reptiles at all in households with at-risk individuals). However, for most households and families, following good hygiene procedures (like careful handling, cleaning and hand-washing) will greatly reduce the risk of infections, as explained in Preventing Salmonella Infections from Pet Reptiles.

4. Salmonella-Free Turtles Might Not Stay That Way

In recent years, the concept of Salmonella-free turtles was introduced, where Salmonella bacteria are eradicated from turtle eggs, resulting in Salmonella-free hatchlings. However, studies have shown that in some cases, previously Salmonella-free turtles may eventually test positive for Salmonella, possible when turtles become reinfected through the environment or contact with turtles that are not free of Salmonella. My take: it may be possible to produce Salmonella free turtles, but there is no guarantee they will stay that way. My concern is the idea of buying Salmonella-free turtles would give owners a false sense of security and that owners would be less careful about hygiene, thinking they not longer have to worry.
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