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Protecting Yourself from Salmonella
By Susan Tellem
When Peter bought a quarter-size green
turtle from a Los Angeles street vendor
for his young son Danny, he had no idea
he was bringing home a tiny package of
life that packed a big wallop of a disease.
Within days, Danny ended up in the ICU
with severe vomiting, lethargy and fever.
He almost died from salmonella infection.
In Texas, an HIV-positive, 45-year-old pet
store employee who routinely handled
reptiles was treated for severe salmonella
sepsis (a serious illness that results when
salmonella enters the bloodstream).
All over America, men and women, adults and kids are unknowingly trading and buying
reptiles infected with salmonella. Reptiles like water turtles are often purchased at pet
stores and swap meets, as well as from the black market and private reptile breeders.
Many reptile sellers do not post warnings about the dangers of salmonella, even though
state and federal laws require it.
What is salmonella?
According to the New York Department of Health, salmonella is “a bacterial infection that
generally infects the intestinal tract and occasionally the bloodstream. Symptoms include
mild to severe diarrhea, fever and occasionally vomiting. Symptoms generally appear
one to three days after exposure. It is spread by eating or drinking contaminated food or
by contact with infected people, animals and reptiles.”
There is no known effective treatment for salmonella in the turtle. Even if you treat the
salmonella in your pet, it returns. Most healthy adults show no symptoms of salmonella
even if they are infected. But, children under five, pregnant women, the elderly, and
those whose immune systems are compromised (e.g., people who have AIDS, who have
had kidney transplants or who are undergoing chemotherapy) are at risk of serious ill-
ness or even death from salmonella infection.
How pervasive is the problem?
During the 1970s, millions of tiny baby turtles were sold throughout the United States