• Fifteen people have reported salmonella infections linked to tiny pet turtles.
  • The outbreak has sickened young children and adults in 11 states to date.
  • It is illegal to sell turtles smaller than 4 inches across in the US, as the animals have been linked to salmonella outbreaks before.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people to avoid kissing and snuggling tiny pet turtles amid a salmonella outbreak linked to the animals, according to an investigation notice posted Thursday.

At least 15 people have gotten sick and five were hospitalized for salmonella infections closely related to small pet turtles, the notice said. No deaths have been reported in relation to the outbreak.

The outbreak involved people ranging from less than a year old to age 59, with a median age of 7 years old. Cases have been reported in 11 states to date, but the outbreak may span a wide area, according to the CDC.

The agency said the actual number of sick people is likely much higher than what's been reported, as many people recover from salmonella without seeking medical care or testing. The bacteria causes diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps that usually resolve within 4 to 7 days.

Turtles of any size can shed salmonella germs in their droppings, but the smallest ones — with shells measuring fewer than 4 inches across — are illegal to sell and own in the US, as they've been linked to previous outbreaks in humans. The turtles are small enough to be held by young children, which may increase the risk of disease transmission.

People can get salmonella by touching a turtle or something in its environment, and then touching their mouth or handling food, the CDC said. It is important to wash your hands with soap and water after handling turtles and other reptilian and amphibian pets, as the animals carry various germs that can make people sick.

At least 6 people bought illegal pet turtles online

Although the law prohibits the sale of small turtles, the palm-sized pets are still sold by some vendors online and in person, according to the CDC.

Health officials interviewed nine people affected by the outbreak and found that eight of them had interactions with pet turtles in the week before they got sick. Six people specified that they touched turtles smaller than 4 inches across.

A total of six people said they bought their tiny turtles online, including three purchases from a website called myturtlestore.com.

Lab testing by the Tennessee Department of Health revealed that two turtles purchased from the website were infected with a strain of salmonella closely related to bacteria collected from sick people.

The CDC does not recommend keeping turtles as pets if you have children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, or people with weakened immune systems at home. These populations are especially vulnerable to salmonella and may experience more severe illness.

If you do have a turtle or another pet reptile at home, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the animal or cleaning its tank. Do not kiss or snuggle your turtle, and make sure to keep it away from areas where food is consumed or prepared.

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