With the Easter holiday and springtime weather approaching, the City of El Paso Department of Public Health (DPH) is warning residents to avoid becoming infected with Salmonella.
Just last year DPH staff investigated two cases of Salmonella Poona in small children, part of a multi-state cluster associated with red-eared slider turtles. There were more than 20 cases identified across the country.
“Over the years these small turtles have gained popularity in our region,” said Fernando Gonzalez, Lead Epidemiologist. “We hope parents will re-consider the idea of giving these creatures as gifts to small children because we know there is a risk of infection.”
Salmonella is a bacterial infection that commonly affects the intestinal tract. Most people infected with Salmonella develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps between 12 and 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most individuals recover without treatment. In some cases, diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized.
The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness, in which the Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the blood stream, and then to other body sites. In these cases, Salmonella can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.
Since 1975, it has been illegal in the United States to sell or distribute turtles with shells that measure less than 4 inches in length. This size was chosen because small children are more likely to treat smaller turtles as toys and put them in their mouths.
This ban prohibiting the sale of small turtles likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis and according to the Food and Drug Administration, has prevented an estimated 100,000 cases of salmonellosis annually in children. If you encounter someone illegally selling these turtles you may call 3-1-1 to file a report.
How do I reduce the risk of Salmonella infection from reptiles and amphibians?
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after touching a reptile or amphibian, or anything in the area where they live and roam. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available.
- Adults should always supervise hand washing for young children.
- Keep reptiles and amphibians out of homes with children younger than 5 years old or people with weakened immune systems.
- Habitats and their contents should be carefully cleaned outside of the home. Use disposable gloves when cleaning and do not dispose of water in sinks used for food preparation or for obtaining drinking water.
- Wash any clothing the reptile or amphibian might have touched.
- Use soap or a disinfectant to thoroughly clean any surfaces that have been in contact with reptiles or amphibians.
- Don’t let children younger than 5 years of age, older adults, or people with weak immune systems handle or touch amphibians or reptiles, or anything in the area where they live and roam, including water from containers or aquariums.
- Don’t keep reptiles and amphibians in child care centers, nursery schools, or other facilities with children younger than 5 years old.
- Don’t touch your mouth after handling reptiles or amphibians and do not eat or drink around these animals.
- Don’t let reptiles or amphibians roam freely throughout the house or in areas where food or drink is prepared, served, or stored, such as kitchens, pantries, or outdoor patios.
- Don’t bathe animals or clean their habitats in your kitchen sink, bathroom sink, or bathtub. To prevent cross-contamination, animals should be bathed in a small plastic tub or bin that is dedicated for animal use only. If bathtubs must be used for these purposes, they should be thoroughly cleaned afterward. Use bleach to disinfect a sink, bathtub, or other place where reptile or amphibian habitats are cleaned.