Salmonella warning: careful helping that turtle across the road

 Turtles, even those in the wilds of Maine, are wonderful sources of salmonella.

Ken Allen, an editor, writer and photographer, writes in Maine’s Morning Sentinel that on Aug. 27, the day before Hurricane Irene hit Maine, Katelyn, my youngest daughter, and I were bicycling north on Route 27 and came to the "turtle crossing" just south of the old Messalonskee Lake boat launch by Belgrade Stream, apparently an ancient migration route for this reptile.

That day, a painted turtle — large as this species goes — had hunkered in grass by the breakdown lane, pointing west toward the busy highway.

That day with Katelyn, I stopped my bicycle, showed her the turtle and said, "Why don’t you move it across the road so no one runs over it."

I wanted Katelyn to get accustomed to doing good deeds for wildlife, but she was worried the turtle might scratch her, a good thing.

Unknown to me at that moment, aquatic turtles commonly carry salmonella bacteria. I should have known that fact after writing nature articles for the past three decades — but just didn’t.

Normally, this small species doesn’t claw people anywhere near as readily as snappers do, making me careless. When I gently grasped the carapace with my fingers and thumb between the front and back legs, the turtle immediately reached back with its right front leg and scratched my index finger hard enough to break the skin. Then later, without washing my hands, I ate a piece of pizza at a convenience store. Either incident could have given me Salmonella poisoning.

By Monday morning, I was deathly sick with diarrhea, big-time nausea, headache, fever, chill and worst of all, severe abdominal pain, and it lasted through the power outage until well into Wednesday.

The following day, I told William Woodward, a retired biologist, about the snapper, and he quickly said, "Be careful handling turtles because they commonly carry Salmonella."