Turtles look cute but are dangerous to pregnant women and young children
If you’re pregnant or have children under the age of 5, you should remove any reptile or amphibian you may have in your home. That’s because they can carry salmonella, a bacteria that can make you and your children very sick – it can even be life threatening.
The salmonella bacteria is commonly carried by reptiles, such as lizards, snakes and turtles, and amphibians, such as frogs, salamanders and newts. Chickens, ducks and geese can also carry salmonella.
Pregnant women, infants, young children and anyone with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of getting the infection.
The risk of salmonella is so serious that the sale of turtles less than 4 inches in size has been banned in the United States since 1975. These little creatures may look cute but they have the potential to cause serious disease. The CDC warns: “Don’t be fooled – Just because you can’t see the bacteria doesn’t mean they aren’t there.”
According to the FDA, the death of a 4-week-old baby in Florida in 2007 “was linked to Salmonella from a small turtle. The DNA of the Salmonella from the turtle matched that from the infant.”
How can you get infected with Salmonella?
You can get infected by eating foods that are contaminated with Salmonella, such as poultry, meat and eggs, or by touching an infected animal.
Even if a pet reptile has a negative test for salmonella, it doesn’t mean the animal is not infected. It may mean that the animal was just not “shedding salmonella” on the day it was tested. Salmonella can be found in feces (poop), soil, water (including fish tank water), and the food and bedding of infected animals. Salmonella germs can spread easily to an animal’s fur, feathers and scales.
Symptoms of salmonellosis
Signs of salmonellosis usually start a half day to three days after contact and symptoms last from four to seven days. Call your health care provider right away if you have any of these symptoms:
- Belly pain
- Blood in your stool (poop) or dark or amber-colored urine (pee)
- Dehydration (not enough water or fluids in your body)
- Fever or chills
- Muscle pains
- Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting (throwing up)
To check for salmonellosis, your health care provider will take a stool sample and send it to a lab for testing.
Is Salmonella dangerous during pregnancy?
Yes. It can lead to health complications during pregnancy, including:
- Bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), which can lead to problems, like meningitis, a serious infection that causes swelling in the brain and spinal cord.
- Reactive arthritis (also called Reiter’s syndrome), which can cause swelling or pain in your joints.
Salmonellosis can be passed to your baby during pregnancy. If your baby is born with salmonellosis, she may have diarrhea and fever after birth. She also may develop meningitis.
Don’t have turtles and other reptiles or amphibians in your home. If you touch them at a petting zoo or other place, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands immediately after coming into contact with them.
Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.