Do Wild Turtles Carry Diseases?

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

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What do you do when you spot a wild turtle in your backyard? If you are like me, you let the creature enjoy its time without disturbing it much. However, many people hold the turtle and pet it. But do you think it is safe? Does a wild turtle carry diseases?

Wild turtles carry the same bacteria, for example, Salmonella, as the domestic ones. Surprisingly, the infection spread rate is lower in wild turtles (only 5%). Touching a roadside or pond turtle can stain your hands and clothes with germs. But washing yourself afterward diminishes the risk.

Are wild turtle diseases deadly? Can you stop them? Let’s get the answers below.

Key Takeaways

  • Salmonella spread rate is lower in wild turtles.
  • Turtle’s infectious diseases like Salmonella can be spread to humans.
  • Always wash your hands before and after handling a turtle to avoid any contagious disease.

Wild Turtles Carry Diseases – Fact Or Not?

Yes, wild turtles carry diseases. It is a fact.

But don’t blame the wild turtles only. Apparently, both wild and domestic turtles can carry diseases.

Once, an expert told me that turtles are, in general, disease-carrying animals. Their system contains nasty germs, which can be spread to humans.

The one disease we all are concerned about is Salmonella. Turtles and tortoises of all ages carry this Salmonella bacteria. But the germ is not harmful to them. It is because turtles have developed an immunity and resistance against Salmonella bacteria over the centuries.

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Let me share an interesting fact with you.

The reports suggest that the wild turtles have a lower infection rate, around 5%. On the other hand, the Salmonella germ spread rate is 5 to 80% in the pet turtles. I am not making stuff up. Check this research paper for verification.

Do you still think that the wild turtles are more stinky? I hope not. Well, you may be wondering why the Salmonella infection rate is low in wild turtles. Honestly, the exact answer is yet to be discovered.

However, the experts claim that stress level in domestic turtles is responsible for this. As per them, the distressed turtles release more Salmonella bacteria with their feces. The germs can infect other turtles and humans.

It is a good thing that wild turtles have a low Salmonella infection rate. This way, the passer-by or the turtle guardians will not hesitate to help a pet on the roadside.

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).)

Are Wild Turtle Diseases Contagious?

Honestly, turtles are vulnerable to many diseases. But not all of them are contagious. Conditions like respiratory illness or infectious diseases can be spread from one turtle to another. But are these diseases dangerous for humans, too?

Well, the keepers are safe from most turtle diseases. But as I said earlier, though Salmonella does nothing to turtles, humans can get affected by this germ.

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Keepers get infected with Salmonella bacteria when they touch the sick turtle and handle their habitat.

Is Salmonella deadly? Well, not really. Turtles have in-built resistance against bacteria, and human immunity can handle the germs just fine.

How Do Humans Get Salmonella Infection?

Salmonella is a contagious disease. It means you get this infection only if you come in contact with the carrier.

Say, for example, a turtle nesting in your backyard has Salmonella. It means its skin, saliva, and poop are crawling with this bacteria. When you touch the reptile, there will be germs on your hands and clothes. If the bacteria make their way into your system, congratulations! You are Salmonella positive.

Salmonella stains can be found in the water the sick turtle was swimming, or on the carpet it had crawled. This is the sole reason why experts emphasize so much on maintaining hygiene.

A 2020 paper analyzed ranavirus prevalence in wild river cooter turtles in Virginia over multiple years. Prevalence was found to vary between 0-18% depending on location and year. (J Wildl Dis. 2020 Oct;56(4):895-903)

Salmonella In Humans: Who Are At The Risk & What Are The Symptoms?

Don’t get me wrong. Salmonella might not be a big deal. Yet, you can not just ignore it, especially if you have turtles at home. Even though adults can handle the disease without sweat, children and pregnant ladies face complications.

If I be more specific, the following group of people are at a high risk of getting Salmonella,

  • Infant
  • Children under 5 years old
  • Pregnant women
  • Senior citizens above 65
  • Cancer and diabetes patients
  • HIV-positive patients, etc.
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You can get yourself diagnosed with Salomella by professionals. But the primary symptoms are,

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdomen cramp

Generally, these signs are seen within 36 hours after being exposed to Salmonella bacteria. The sickness usually lasts for 2 to 7 days. Salmonella is not severe for everyone and can be treated with antibiotics.

However, for people with weak immunity, Salmonella can be proven deadly. The bacteria will spread from the intestine to other sites via the bloodstream. Doctors claim that delayed treatment can lead to death in humans.

How To Reduce The Risk Of Turtle Diseases (Salmonella)?

Diagnosing turtles with infectious diseases is easy. But this is not true for Salmonella. Apparently, turtles rarely show any symptoms of this bacteria. Even the test results show Salmonella negative.

So, it is better to adopt some precautionary steps to reduce the spread of any turtle-related infectious diseases. Some tips are as follows,

  1. Mark your turtle’s territory very clearly. Do not let the turtle explore beyond that boundary.
  2. Letting your turtles in the kitchen or bathing them in the sink is not recommended at all.
  3. You should not take turtle tubs or tanks for your personal use. 
  4. Do not mix your foods with the turtle meals.
  5. Wash your hands before and after handling the turtles and their enclosure. It is better if you can wear gloves.
  6. Keep the turtles away from infants, pregnant women, and senior citizens.
  7. Never buy a turtle less than 4 inches. According to a CDC investigation, the baby turtles are mostly responsible for a Salmonella outbreak.
  8. If you have a sick turtle, separate it immediately from other turtles. Wear a mask and gloves when handling this turtle.

A 2019 study tested wild emydid turtles in Florida for Salmonella and found an overall prevalence of 27%. Rates differed between species and locations. (Ecohealth. 2019 Dec;16(4):772-780.)

Before You Go…

Turtles are sensitive, and any illness makes them vulnerable. While people are more concerned with the shell conditions, I tell them not to ignore eye diseases. Prolonged illness can blind the turtles. I have discussed turtle eye conditions in detail in the article below.

Turtle Eye Diseases: Types, Symptoms, Prevention, and Cure

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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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