Can Baby Turtles Transmit Diseases?

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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The New York Times has published an article saying the tiny turtles aka the babies are responsible for the recent Salmonella outbreak. This claim is serious as 26 people have been sickened across 11 states, and at least 9 patients have been hospitalized.

I know it sounds horrible and confusing. Can baby turtles really transmit diseases?

Baby turtles can spread diseases to each other and also to their owners. For instance, these hatchlings often shed Salmonella at a high rate. As a result, keepers who touch the bacteria often get sick. Additionally, these baby turtles pass infectious germs to their tank mates, causing illness.

What can you do about the turtle diseases? Are they dangerous? Let’s talk in detail.

Key Takeaways

  • Baby turtles are red flags. They are the chief carriers of Salomenall bacteria.
  • Selling and buying turtles below 4 inches is banned in many states.
  • Minimum hygiene is necessary to avoid transmission of turtle diseases.

Baby Turtles Transmitting Diseases: The Fact

It sounds unfortunate but it’s true. Baby turtles are more prone to transmit diseases, especially Salmonella.

WHO (World Health Organization) has recently recorded over 200 zoonoses.

Zoonosis is a disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans. A bacterial infection, parasite attack, or fungi outbreak is mainly responsible for zonosis.

Salmonellosis, a bacterial zoonosis, is widely seen in turtles. This reptile class carries this bacteria naturally from an early age. Even though Salmonella is bad for humans, turtles develop immunity against this disease. So, a turtle whose system is crawling with Salmonella bacteria will not experience any adverse side effects.

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Apparently, Salmonellosis is more prominent in baby turtles. As they grow old, the bacterial presence decreases. Another source confirms that the free-living turtles shed Salmonella at a lower rate than the domestic ones.

Why do the babies, more particularly the pet hatchlings shed Salmonella at a higher degree? It is believed that captivity can stress the turtles and make them release more bacteria. However, the answer to why babies are the most prominent carriers of Salmonella is yet to be discovered.

Then why are we blaming the hatchlings? Well, if you look into the collected data, you will be convinced, too.

A 2023 salmonella outbreak was linked to pet turtles, affecting 33 people across multiple states according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (source).

In 1975, the USA witnessed a food-borne Salomenall outbreak, primarily because of the baby turtles. The children suffered a lot because of this disease. Again, in 2015 and 2016, more than 200 people were treated who got Salmonella from small turtles.

The numbers look more horrible if I show you a bigger picture.

In the USA, more than 19,000 people were hospitalized due to Salmonella and around 380 deaths took place. And yes, the baby turtles were to blame in most cases.

In short, baby turtles transmit Salmonella to humans. Luckily, we are safe from other infectious diseases of turtles.

However, turtles can spread infectious diseases like respiratory illness, stomatosis, shell rot, etc., among each other. Hence, experts always suggest moving the sick turtle to isolation as soon as possible.

Can You Avoid Turtle Transmittable Diseases?

As mentioned, Salmonella is inevitable in turtles. It means no matter which species you bring home, we are welcoming the unwanted germs, too. But of course, there is a trick to avoid Salomenall or any other disease to an extent. The tricks are as follows,

1. Select The Right Turtle

I have already mentioned that the baby turtles shed Salmonella more than the adults. In fact, the previous outbreaks support this statement. Therefore, the authorities (CDC) have banned selling turtles less than 4 inches.

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So, you can lower the risk of this transmittable disease just by selecting a juvenile or young turtle instead of a hatchling.

2. Do Not Cuddle

Turtles shed germs through saliva, skin, and feces. When you pet these reptiles or kiss them on their lips, you expose yourself to the bacteria. Hence, you must not be as lovey-dovey with turtles as with dogs or cats.

3. No More Kitchen Entry

You can not just let the turtle walk on the kitchen counter or bath in the sink. It will leave stains in your kitchen space. If your meal gets exposed to the Salmonella bacteria, you will surely fall sick.

4. Maintain A Minimum Hygiene

Wash your hands with soaps before and after handling a turtle. If you are hand-feeding the turtle, wear gloves.

Furthermore, do not mix your personal stuff with turtle equipment. For example, get a separate tub and bowl for the pet.

5. Keep The Pet Away

Well, most owners are not concerned about Salmonella. It is because they do not know the consequences of this disease yet.

It is true that Salmonella has little effect on healthy adults. But it will create complexities among,

  • Infants
  • Children under 5
  • Adults above 65
  • Pregnant ladies
  • HIV and diabetes patients, etc.

In fact, there are cases where the patients have died because of improper treatment and ignorance. Hence, I strongly suggest keeping the turtles away from the groups mentioned above.

A 2021 study in Portugal screened wild Hermann’s tortoises for mycoplasma infections and found a prevalence rate of 25%. This provided new data on exposure to these bacteria in European tortoises. (J Clin Microbiol. 2021 Jun 30;59(7).)

6. An Isolation Is Better

I have already talked about how you can avoid turtle diseases in humans. But how can you stop the transmission to fellow tank mates?

Well, the solution is simple. Transfer the sick turtle to a separate tank as early as possible. Then, have all the turtles diagnosed and arrange necessary treatments.

See also  How To Revive A Dead Turtle? [CPR Process]

Baby Turtle Spread Salmonella In Humans: Symptoms & Treatment

Honestly, turtles of any age can transmit Salmonella in humans. We can not eliminate the bacteria completely from the pet’s system. In fact, you can not even trace Salmonella in turtles via diagnosis in many cases.

Therefore, the smart move is to adopt the precautions to avoid this disease altogether. Yet, it is not impossible to get Salmonella. I mean any minor exposure to the bacteria can make you sick. So I am adding the symptoms and probable treatment for your convenience,

  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Abdomen pain, etc.

These signs are experienced within 72 hours of encountering the bacteria. Antibiotics are prescribed to cure the disease.

Can I touch my baby turtle?

Yes, you can touch your baby turtle, but there are important considerations to keep in mind:

  • Baby turtles are delicate, so any handling should be done gently and with great care.
  • Always wash your hands both before and after handling a turtle. This is to protect both you and the turtle from potential transmission of bacteria, like Salmonella, which turtles can carry.
  • Frequent handling can be stressful for turtles, particularly young ones. It’s important to minimize handling to reduce stress.
  • Make sure that after handling, the turtle is returned to a safe, comfortable environment that meets its needs for heat, light, and water.
  • If your turtle shows signs of stress or discomfort, it’s best to limit handling and observe it more in its habitat.

Can you get Salmonella from a baby turtle?

Yes, you can get Salmonella from a baby turtle. According to the CDC, any turtle can carry Salmonella bacteria that can make people sick, even if they appear healthy.

Additionally, the Alabama Department of Public Health notes that all reptiles, including turtles, naturally shed Salmonella in their droppings, much like humans shed skin cells. While Salmonella does not typically make the turtles sick, it can cause serious infection in people.

Therefore, baby turtles should always be handled carefully and with proper handwashing to avoid potential Salmonella transmission.

Before You Go…

In my previous blogs, I have talked about Salmonella in turtles. But what about tortoises? Do they carry these germs, too? Find out in the attached article below.

Do Tortoises Carry Salmonella? [Prevention Tips]

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About Author

Muntaseer Rahman started keeping pet turtles back in 2013. He also owns the largest Turtle & Tortoise Facebook community in Bangladesh. These days he is mostly active on Facebook.


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