Washington state

You may love your pet turtle but this is why you shouldn’t kiss it or snuggle with it

A Whatcom County woman in her 20s contracted salmonella and was part of a 13-state outbreak of illness linked to pet turtles, the Washington State Department of Health announced Friday, Oct. 11.

Also sickened was a person in Kitsap County, who was hospitalized.

The two cases marked the first from Washington state to be tied to an outbreak of salmonella infections traced back to pet turtles, according to the state.

So far, 21 people have been sickened and seven have been hospitalized in the 13 states. None have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Salmonella infection can be serious and life-threatening, especially for children younger than 5, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps that develop 12 to 72 hours after exposure.

“People should know that reptiles and amphibians carry salmonella, and they can best prevent getting and spreading the illness by learning safe pet handling techniques,” Hanna Oltean, an epidemiologist with the state Department of Health, said in a prepared statement.

It’s not the first time that such illnesses have been linked to pet turtles in Washington, according to state public health officials.

Reptiles, including turtles, can have salmonella on their bodies, even though they’re clean.

The bacteria also get on their tanks and other surfaces they touch.

Public health officials said here’s what you need to do so you don’t get sick:

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching your turtles.

Don’t kiss or snuggle them. This can spread salmonella germs to your face and mouth.

Don’t let them roam in your kitchen or anywhere you prepare, serve or eat food. Keep their stuff out of those spaces as well.

Clean their habitats and toys outside to avoid cross-contaminating surfaces in your home.

Don’t buy small young turtles, which are defined as ones with shell lengths shorter than 4 inches. They shed more salmonella bacteria than adult turtles, the CDC said, and children are more likely to think of them as toys and to put them into their mouths.

They’re illegal to sell in the U.S. anyway.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.