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Can Turtles Transmit Diseases To Humans? [Health Risks]

Turtles are Exotic Pets. Sulcata Tortoise or African spurred tortoise are walking on the table in the veterinary examination room.

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

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There’s a myth that pet turtles can’t spread diseases, and I believe the same. But, one of my turtles suffered from bacterial infections. Suddenly, I got a fever and digestion issues at the same time.  I have been wondering, can turtles transmit diseases to humans?

Turtles can transmit diseases to humans through their saliva, water, airborne droplets, and physical contact. Turtles mostly transmit Salmonella infection to humans. In addition, turtles can also cause Chelonian flu, Ranavirus, and turtle pox.

Are these diseases curable? Can I prevent these contagious diseases? I know you’re thinking about these questions. Don’t worry, mate! I’ve got all the answers, and I’ll help you understand the transmittable diseases of turtles that affect humans.

Key Highlights

  • Turtles can transmit diseases to humans like salmonella, Chlamydiosis, Ranavirus, turtle pox and Chelonian flu, etc.
  • Humans, especially kids, can get sick from turtles by touching, licking and kissing.
  • Fungal infections of turtles can be the reason for allergic reactions in humans.
  • Salmonella in turtles can cause food poisoning and severe fever in humans.
  • Turtle diseases can be responsible for humans’ breathing problems.
  • Some bacterial infections can be caused due to airborne droplets and direct contact.
  • Yet, humans can catch salmonella more often than other turtle diseases.
  • It’s wise to avoid touching turtles in some critical conditions.

Can Humans Get Sick From Turtles?

Pet turtles can spread some severe diseases to humans. The bacteria infections of turtles are the most harmful diseases that can affect humans directly. Mostly, kids are triggered by the turtle’s diseases because they touch and kiss the pet turtles.

However, turtle diseases can cause respiratory issues in humans. You can suffer from frequent allergy attacks if you’re allergic to fungus or bacteria. It’s not safe for kids and pregnant women to handle turtles because this can be risky for their health.

In 2023, the CDC linked a salmonella outbreak affecting 26 people across 11 states to contact with small pet turtles as cited in this New York Times article.

What Are The Health Problems With Turtles?

My priority for my turtles is their health. Once my male pet turtle was sick, I couldn’t understand what to do. After taking him to the vet and treating him correctly, I’ve researched the other health problems that can harm them and humans.

Turtles carry diseases like Salmonella, shell rot, vitamin A deficiency, calcium deficiency, e.coli, respiratory problems, shell infections and various fungal infections. The major targets of these diseases are small turtles, wild turtles and sea turtles.

common turtle-borne diseases along with their symptoms in humans

DiseaseSymptoms in Humans
Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)– Diarrhea
– Fever
– Abdominal cramps
– Headache
– Nausea
– Vomiting
– Dehydration in severe cases
Aeromonas Infection– Diarrhea (often bloody)
– Stomach pain
– Nausea and vomiting
– Fever
– Skin infections (rare)
Leptospirosis– High fever
– Headache
– Chills
– Muscle aches
– Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes)
– Red eyes
– Abdominal pain
– Diarrhea
– Rash
Campylobacteriosis– Diarrhea (often bloody)
(Campylobacter spp.)– Fever
– Stomach cramps
– Nausea
– Vomiting

What Are The Contagious Diseases Of Turtles?

Turtles can transmit diseases to humans that can be dangerous for their health. These diseases can cause several health issues for a long time if you don’t treat them better. Here are turtles’ most harmful contagious diseases, symptoms, and treatments.

DiseasesTransmission to HumansSymptomsCurePrevention
SalmonellaIngestion and bacteriaDiarrhea, abdominal cramps and feverProper diagnosis, follow doctor’s adviceWash your hand correctly, separate the turtle’s 
Turtle poxDirect contactSkin tissue fatigue, high feverConsult doctors immediately, also take the affected turtle to vetAvoid face contact, handwashing and monitor turtle’s activities
Chelonian fluAirborne dropletsSevere breathing problemsDoctor prescribed antibiotic medicinesTry to avoid direct contact, isolate affected turtles, clean your room regularly
RanavirusWaterborne transmission and direct contactFatigue, lethargy and oral dischargeConsult medical specialists and take effective medicinesSterelize turtle’s belongings and keep yourself away from infected turtles.
ChlamydiosisDirect contact and inhalationEye, nasal discharge and respiratory issuesPrescribed oral antibioticsWear disposable gloves during handling and limit your contact with the affected turtles.
MycoplasmosisRespiratory droplets and direct contactEye Swelling, nasal discharge and breathing problems.Antibiotics and constant supervisionKeep yourself away from turtle droppings, and disinfect the turtle tank
Salmonella micro biological vector illustration cross section labeled diagram. Medical research information poster. Inner bacterial structure.
Internal Structure of Salmonella Bacteria

Can You Get Salmonella From A Turtle?

Most of these diseases are rare in humans from turtles. The chances of getting salmonella from a turtle are high because it’s pretty hard to understand the signs of this infection. However, tiny turtles like red eared sliders mostly carry salmonella.

For this reason,  keeping tiny turtles has been banned in the United States since 1975 due to the outbreaks of Salmonella from turtles. However, salmonella-affected pet turtles can make your child sick.

According to research reports, Salmonella in pet turtles can harm your health in the long run. Apart from these, turtles have many bacterial infections that can be dangerous for humans and other turtles.

Some common symptoms of Salmonella in humans are fatigue, severe body pain, abdominal cramps, food poisoning, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

You’ll notice the symptoms within 6 to 72 hours after you handle the turtles, which continues for 2 to 7 days.

comparing salmonellosis infection rates between people who own turtles and the general population

PopulationAnnual Salmonellosis Infection RateSource
People who own turtles30%Multistate Outbreak of Human Salmonella Typhimurium Infections Associated with Pet Turtle Exposure — United States, 2008
General U.S. population1.2%Turtle-Associated Salmonellosis, United States, 2006–2014
touching pet snapping turtle
Owner: Josh Kelley

How To Avoid Getting Salmonella From Turtles?

Some turtle owners think washing the turtles can wipe the salmonella bacteria from them. But this is one of the turtle salmonella myths. No matter how hard you try, avoiding these bacterial infections is difficult.

If your turtles already have salmonella or you get new turtles, it’s easy to prevent getting this virus from them by following some precautionary tips.

  • Wash your hands regularly after touching your turtles, especially baby turtles.
  • Clean and disinfect the turtle tank at least once a week. 
  • Avoid licking or kissing the turtles, and keep your kids away.
  • Don’t clean the turtle stuff in the kitchen.
  • Quarantine the infected turtles and keep them separate from other turtles.
  • Use medical gloves when handling turtles.
  • Consult specialized vets for better treatment of turtles from Salmonella.

Researchers have found that turtles can transmit other diseases lesser known than salmonellosis. This includes diseases caused by organisms like mycobacterium, which can cause infections in humans similar to tuberculosis as reported by the FDA. Proper hygiene and care is important when keeping turtles as pets.

Is Turtle Fungi Contagious To Humans?

Turtle fungi are contagious to humans.

Zoonotic bacteria are one of the major fungal diseases of turtles that can spread to humans and fellow turtles.

However, it’s also a source of salmonella. Along with these infections, turtle skin has severe fungal diseases.

It can spread if the turtle tank is unclean and virus-infected. Fungal infections contain allergens that can cause severe allergy problems in humans. You can prevent these fungi germs if you handle your pet turtles carefully.

Are Turtles Dangerous To Touch?

All turtles aren’t dangerous to humans. However, some of them can be harmful to humans and turtles. When your turtles have salmonella, it’s good to avoid touching turtles. The bite of turtles like red eared sliders can be painful for humans.

These can transmit diseases, and it’s unsafe for humans. As turtles have a strong instinct for their habitats, they can be aggressive if you disturb their living area.

potential health risks associated with keeping turtles and other pets

Here is a table comparing some of the potential health risks associated with keeping turtles as pets versus other common pets like dogs, cats, and birds:

PetPotential Zoonotic Diseases
TurtleSalmonella (common), mycobacterial infections (rare)
DogRabies (rare), hookworm (common)
CatToxoplasmosis (common), cat-scratch disease (common)
BirdPsittacosis (rare), salmonellosis (common)

symptoms of salmonella from turtles

Symptoms of salmonellosis. The structure of salmonella. Infographics. Vector illustration on isolated background

Can turtles make other turtles sick?

Yes, turtles can transmit illnesses to other turtles. Here are a few key points:

  • Salmonellosis (salmonella infection) is one of the most common illnesses spread between turtles. Salmonella bacteria naturally live in the digestive tract of many turtles and can be passed through their feces. This poses a risk if turtles are in the same enclosure/tank.
  • Upper respiratory infections are also frequently spread between turtles. Viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory illness can be transmitted through direct contact or sharing the same living space.
  • Parasites like protozoa and worms that infect one turtle can potentially infect others living in close proximity through fecal contamination of the environment.
  • Injuries or wounds on one turtle also risk spreading infection to tankmates through contact with the water or surfaces. Bacteria on the skin or in wounds can be transmitted.
cute red eared slider
Owner: Vivi Hernandez

Are turtles safe around babies?

Turtles are generally not considered safe pets for young babies. Here are a few key reasons why:

  • Salmonella risk – As mentioned, salmonella bacteria naturally live in turtle digestive tracts. Babies have immature immune systems and are more vulnerable to infections. Salmonella from turtles can be transmitted via contact with the turtle, its tank/habitat, or anyone handling the turtle.
  • Bites – Even small species of turtles have strong jaws that can bite if startled or feeling threatened. Babies may not understand gentle handling of animals.
  • Dropped/knocked over – Babies are learning motor skills. They could accidentally knock over a tank or drop a turtle, risking injury to the baby or stress/injury to the turtle.
  • Choking hazard – Small species/baby turtles could pose a choking risk if picked up by a baby. Their limbs, tails could also be chewed or pulled.
  • Cleaning chemicals – Chemicals used to clean a turtle habitat could be hazardous if accessed by a baby.

For these safety reasons, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control advise keeping reptiles like turtles away from young children under 5 years old. It’s generally best to wait until kids are older and can understand gentle, supervised interactions before introducing a turtle pet. Proper handwashing is also a must after any contact.

can turtles cause respiratory problems in humans?

Yes, turtles can potentially cause respiratory infections or illnesses in humans under some circumstances:

  • Salmonella: As mentioned before, salmonella bacteria naturally live in turtle digestive tracts. In rare cases, salmonella from turtles can cause respiratory infections if the bacteria is inhaled, such as during cleaning of an enclosure. This risk is higher for young, elderly, or immunocompromised individuals.
  • Mycoplasma: Some types of mycoplasma bacteria have been linked to upper respiratory infections in people exposed to pet turtles. Mycoplasma can be inhaled during close contact.
  • Chlamydophila: This genus of bacteria has been associated with pneumonia cases in turtle owners and handlers. Airborne transmission is possible during cleaning or respiratory aerosols from turtles.
  • Fungal infections: In very rare cases, fungal pathogens like Cryptococcus and Emmonsia have caused lung infections in people exposed to turtle environments.

what are the chances of getting salmonella from a turtle?

Overall, the CDC estimates the risk of salmonella infection from pet reptiles and amphibians to be around 1-3% on average.

However, risk may be higher in households with young kids or immunocompromised individuals.

Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in the digestive tracts of turtles and other reptiles. It’s estimated that up to 80% of pet turtles may carry salmonella at some point, even if they appear healthy.

Risk is lower for adults than children, as adults are less likely to put contaminated hands in their mouths. However, adults caring for turtles still need to practice good hygiene.

Before You Go…

If you’re in direct contact with turtles, it’s important to maintain a proper distance and handling techniques. Otherwise, some diseases caused by turtles can damage your health. I constantly monitor my turtles and consult with the vet most of the time. To understand more about turtle diseases, you can look into the articles below.

Do Wild Turtles Carry Diseases?

Can Baby Turtles Transmit Diseases?

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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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