What do you get when you cross a turtle with a swimming pool? Salmonella soup.
According to a recent news report, two Union County, North Carolina, teenagers contracted salmonella after taking a dip in a backyard pool with two "pet" turtles. Both suffered stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting—one of the girls developed kidney failure and had to spend eight days in the hospital.
These girls are only two victims of the largest turtle-related salmonella outbreak in U.S history. More than 100 people in 34 states—most of them children—were sickened by the same strain of salmonella between 2007 and 2008.
Authorities believe that the outbreak may have occurred during the shipping process, when one infected turtle—who was probably being stored in an extremely crowded, cramped, and inadequate space before being mailed off to a pet shop or flea market—contaminated his buddies.
This outbreak isn't an isolated incident. The FDA reports that there are more than 74,000 "pet" turtle–related cases of human salmonella poisoning every year. And that's understandable when you consider how easily salmonella spreads. Simply by playing with turtles at school, kids can bring the germs home to family members.
Many of the parents of infected kids had no clue that turtles even carried salmonella. Um, hello—there's a reason why it's illegal to sell turtles with shells less than 4 inches long. After all, kids do the darndest things—like put baby turtles in their mouths …
So what have we learned? Let's see—don't buy turtles or other exotic animals, refrain from putting reptiles near or in your mouth, and never, ever invite turtles to your pool party.