Pet Turtles May Harbor Disease

Justin Corliss is surrounded by turtles. More than 130 of the tiny, inch­ long red-eared sliders swim in aquariums in his Brodheadsville pet shop.

He picks one up to show its small size and then carefully wipes his hands clean. Which is important, because the turtle could be carrying salmonella, the often fatal bacteria! Infection.
Corliss is taking care of the turtles for federal Fish and Wildlife authorities, who confiscated them from two pet dealers in Pennsylvania.

It’s illegal to sell turtles under four-inches long because they of ten carry salmonella. Small children who handle them or put them in their mouths may catch the disease, Corliss said.
“The first thing kids are going to do is put the turtle in their mouth. These little pet turtles look cute. But all you need to have is one of these go home with a kid,” he said.
The law was passed, Corliss said, to make sure that turtles on the market were large enough to prevent children from easily handling them or putting them in their mouths.

Children and people with immune system deficiencies, like those with AIDS, are easily infected with salmonella.
Adults are less prone to infection, which is why selling turtles longer than four inches is legal. But even adults need to wash their hands after handling turtles, Corliss said.
That’s because researchers have found cases where adults handled turtles, then transferred the disease to children through casual contact, Corliss explained.

While not all turtles carry the disease, aquatic turtles often catch it through the water.
“They can contract salmonella and harbor it without a problem,” he said.
Lab tests are required to tell if a turtle is carrying the disease.
The reptiles catch salmonella from the water, and when kept in an aquarium, of ten spread it through that water as well.

“The water is really where you get the problem from. It’s a cesspool of salmonella. All you have to do is put your finger in there and you’ve got it all over you,” he said.

Federal agents seized one batch of the turtles from a Monroe County pet dealer and another group from elsewhere in the state. Corliss is caring for the reptiles, which may be used as evidence if authorities pursue illegal animal dealing cases against the
dealers, Corliss said.

Otherwise all 130 turtles would be destroyed by the government. So Corliss will either sell them to educational or scientific users, who are allowed to buy small turtles, or keep them until they ‘re big enough for public sale. With red-eared sliders, which are native to most of the southern United States, that could take about three years, Corliss said.

Corliss said anyone who buys a turtle, no matter what size, should carefully wash their hands after handling the pet.

While owning a small turtle isn’t illegal, Corliss said many pet shops break the law by selling them to unsuspecting parents and children.

Clients often come into his shop, see the confiscated red­ eared sliders and say they’ve seen
them sold at pet shops across the area, Corliss said. “Parents should be aware of the salmonella threat,” he said.

Editors Note: A version of this post originally written by Geoff Dougherty originally appeared in the Pocono Record.

About Justin Corliss

Justin Corliss is a business owner, amateur herpetologist and amateur arborist who operates a popular local tree removal and excavating business. Justin Corliss is an internationally published author in herpetoculture and veterinary aspect in herpetology. Justin is also a proud American veteran, honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps.