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Since You Asked: Turtles can carry salmonella

I read the story about the turtle stolen from that Ashland pet shop and was talking to a friend who told me that turtles are filthy and carry salmonella. Is this true??! I have a turtle and had never heard this.

— Trisha N., Medford

We wouldn't be so hard on turtles as to say they are "filthy," though they are right down on the ground with all that muck.

But, truth is, many turtles are natural carriers of salmonella and "shed" the bug, which then can easily spread once you handle the animal or its belongings in a turtle habitat. Turtle care experts advise always washing your hands after handling a turtle to prevent spreading salmonella, which can be deadly, or at best make you miserable for a few days.

Pet turtles with shells smaller than 4 inches were banned from sale in 1970 after more than a quarter million infants and small children were diagnosed with having turtle-associated salmonellosis (the sickness salmonella bacteria causes), according to the FDA. Salmonella can be found on the outer skin and shell surfaces of the turtles, causing salmonellosis for those handling turtles without properly washing their hands after handling the animals, the FDA reports.

Salmonellosis causes gastroenteritis, often with vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and cramps. For high-risk individuals, such as those with weakened immune systems, those taking antibiotics, pregnant women, the elderly, and children under 5, salmonellosis may be even more devastating, leading to blood infections, meningitis, abortion and death, the FDA reports.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com.