An outbreak of salmonella infections across 13 states, so far, has been linked to contact with pet turtles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the cases of 21 people who have been infected with a strain of Salmonella Oranienburg, seven of whom have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
Contact with pet turtles is the likely source of the outbreak based on the evidence, the CDC reported. Twelve of the 17 people who fell ill told the CDC that they had contact with a turtle.
The cases have been reported in Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, California and Washington state since May. It is possible that other cases have not yet been reported.
The highest number of Salmonella cases, 6, were reported in California. Most other states reported one to two cases to date.
The CDC has warned families for many years about adopting pet turtles because the reptiles can carry salmonella germs in their droppings. People can get sick, particularly small children, by kissing or snuggling a turtle or touching anything in the turtle's habitat.
Children under 5, adults over 65 and others with compromised immune systems have the highest risk of infection and should avoid all contact with turtles, the CDC says.
Salmonella infections usually cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps from 12 to 72 hours after the person has been exposed to the bacteria and last between four and seven days, according to the CDC.
The illness can require hospitalization when the infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream and other parts of the body.
In order to avoid getting sick from contact with a turtle, the CDC advises washing hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding one or cleaning its habitat.
Children should not snuggle or kiss turtles in order to prevent the spread of salmonella germs to their faces and mouths, and turtles should not be allowed in any areas like the kitchen where food is prepared or stored.
The turtle's habitat and any toys or pet supplies that come in contact with the turtle should be cleaned outside the house, the CDC says.