124 sick, up from 72; five multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infections linked to small turtles

Turtles in the 1960s and 1970s were inexpensive, popular, and low maintenance pets, with an array of groovy pre-molded plastic housing designs to choose from. Invariably they would escape, only to be found days later behind the couch along with the skeleton of the class bunny my younger sister brought home from kindergarten one weekend.

Maybe I got sick from my turtle.

Maybe I picked up my turtle, rolled around on the carpet with it, pet it a bit, and then stuck my finger in my mouth. Maybe in my emotionally vacant adolescence I kissed my turtle. Who can remember?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports there are now 124 confirmed cases of people, primarily kids, infected with outbreak strains of five different Salmonella outbreak strains in 27 states.

There’s a country-wide love for turtles in 2012, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distribution of turtles less than 4 inches in size as pets since 1975.

Two new multistate outbreaks linked to small turtles have been identified since the prior update on April 5, 2012. Overall, 5 multistate outbreaks of human Salmonella infection are linked with exposure to small turtles. Results of the epidemiologic and environmental investigations indicate exposure to turtles or their environments (e.g., water from a turtle habitat) is the cause of these outbreaks.

• A total of 124 persons infected with outbreak strains of Salmonella Sandiego ( and B), Salmonella Pomona (A and B), and Salmonella Poona have been reported from 27 states.

• Small turtles (shell length less than 4 inches) were reported by 92% of cases.

• Forty-three percent of ill persons with small turtles reported purchasing the turtles from street vendors.

• 19 ill persons have been hospitalized, and no deaths have been reported.

• 67% of ill persons are children 10 years of age or younger.

• Small turtles (shell length less than 4 inches) were reported by 93% of cases with turtle exposure. Forty-three percent of ill persons with small turtles reported purchasing the turtles from street vendors.

The number of ill persons identified in each state is as follows: Alaska (2), Alabama (1), Arizona (3), California (21), Colorado (5), Delaware (3), Georgia (3), Illinois (1), Indiana (1), Kentucky (1), Massachusetts (3), Maryland (6), Michigan (2), Minnesota (1), Nevada (4), New Jersey (7), New Mexico (3), New York (24), North Carolina (1), Ohio (2), Oregon (1), Pennsylvania (9), South Carolina (3), Texas (12), Virginia (3), Vermont (1), and West Virginia (1).

The complete update is available at http://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/small-turtles-03-12/index.html.

Infant in Ireland stricken with botulism from pet turtle, reptiles not suitable as pets for under fives

An infant in Ireland is recovering after a bout with botulism type E, most likely due to exposure to a pet turtle or turtle feed.

Dr Paul McKeown, a specialist in public health medicine at the national Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) warned that reptiles are not appropriate pets for children under the age of five.

Reptiles such as snakes, lizards, tortoises, turtles and terrapins have become extremely popular as pets, he said, but they require careful handling as they carry a range of germs that can lead to illness. Washing hands after touching them is very important.

“Given the risks, reptiles should not be kept as pets in a house where there are children under the age of five,” he added.

There are a number of different types of botulism toxin but the type which the baby picked up – type E – is so rare it was only the seventh case ever reported in an infant worldwide, the centre said.

Pets in the classroom program

That’s what veterinarian, blogger and OK hockey player Scott Weese explored in his latest Worms and Germs entry, reprinted below.

A recent press release from The Pet Care Trust reported on the status of its Classroom Program, which provides support to teachers to have pets in school classrooms. On the surface, it seems like a good idea, helping to enrich school activities. However, it’s one of those areas that can be good, but can also be very bad, depending how it’s applied.

The Pet Care Trust has some useful information about pets in classrooms, and anyone considering a pet in a classroom needs to be aware of a variety of concerns, including:

* Welfare of the pets (stress, adequate care, abuse…)
* Adequacy of pet care, particularly during weekends and holidays
* Problems with access to veterinary care
* Distraction of students
* Allergies
* Fear
* Infectious disease transmission

Infectious disease transmission from pets in classrooms is a real problem. Infections can and do occur. The risks are quite variable, and depending on the animal, children, classroom and pet care, can range from inconsequential to quite serious.

The type of animal is very important. Certain species are very high risk for carrying certain infectious diseases and for transmitting them to people. Reptiles are notorious for Salmonella and it is recommended that children under 5 years of age and immunocompromised individuals, among others, not have contact with reptiles. Even with older kids, there’s a risk and older kids have picked up Salmonella in classrooms from reptiles or their food (e.g. frozen rodents).

So, it’s concerning that 435 of the 2066 grants handed out by this program were for reptiles, and the program involved kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms. A lot of reptiles went into classrooms with a lot of young kids. Typically, elementary school children (at least around here) eat in their classrooms, which raises the concern. While the majority of students would be 5 years of age or older, immunocompromised kids are not exactly uncommon, and it’s unclear whether teachers have adequate understanding about whether kids in their classes are immunocompromised and that this poses an increased risk.
I’m not saying pets in classrooms are a bad idea. However, it’s often done poorly and with little forethought. To be effective and safe, you need to consider many things, such as:

* What species should it be? From my standpoint, no reptiles or other high risk species should be in any classrooms because you can’t guarantee a high-risk person won’t be around. The animal needs to be small enough to be properly housed in a classroom. It’s care requirements need to be basic and readily met. It shouldn’t be a species that gets stressed easily and one that can tolerate all the activities that go on around it. A nocturnal species is probably not a good idea.
* What types of hygiene/infection control practices need to be used and how will they be enforced?
* What disease or injury (e.g. bite) risks are present and how will they be managed.
* Who will take care of it? This means who will take care of it for its lifespan, not just the upcoming school year.
* Who will arrange and pay for any medical expenses that arise, either for preventive medicine or treatment of disease?
* Will parents be notified?
* What happens if a kid in the class is allergy or afraid of the animal?
* Will proper supervision be available at all times?
* Who from the school or school board must give permission, and is there a standard approval process? (There should be, but there rarely is).
* Why is the animal going to be there? Will there be any educational use or it is just there for fun/decoration?

If you can answer all those questions adequately, then a pet might be a good fit in a classroom. If you can’t answer them, or can’t be bothered to try to answer them, then there’s no reason for a pet to be in a classroom.

Kevin Smith got kicked off a Southwest airplane for being fat; should pet owners be kicked off for being inconsiderate?

Movie director Kevin Smith, known for the witty and obscene dialogue in movies he’s penned like Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma, was deemed a flight risk by a Southwest airlines pilot last weekend and ordered off the plane.

"I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?" he ranted through his Twitter account to over 1.6 million followers.. "Again: I’m way fat… But I’m not THERE just yet. But if I am, why wait til my bag is up, and I’m seated WITH ARM RESTS DOWN.”

Smith posted this pic of himself (above, right, exactly as shown) puffing out his cheeks and captioned it, "Look how fat I am on your plane! Quick! Throw me off!"

Another emerging issue on airplanes is those travelling with small pets.

An editorial in the current issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal notes that air travel has become increasingly difficult, with tightened security restrictions and a decreased number of services. But now Air Canada is adding to the difficulty by allowing small pets to travel airplane cabins.

Pets can be accommodated comfortably and safely in airplane cargo holds, which is where they belong. Airlines must choose to put the needs of their human passengers first, or be forced to do so.

Flying should not include avoidable health risks, especially, for passengers with allergies to pets. Many people with allergies to animals will have a reaction when they’re trapped in an enclosed space, often for hours.

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that people allergic to nuts should be considered to have a disability under the Canada Transportation Act and must therefore be accommodated. The agency is now receiving passenger complaints about pets on airplanes and considering whether those with allergies to pets should also be considered as having a disability. Such a finding would force Canadian airlines to safeguard passengers with pet allergies.

If I was a woman, P&G would be interested in me

Procter & Gamble is gunning for me.

With two dogs, two cats, hardwood floors, a 1-year-old and a wife who watches the Dog Whisperer on TV, I’m the target demographic for P&G’s new campaign to replace mops and brooms with Swiffer products, featuring celebrity spokesthingy Cesar Millan.

The New York Times reports that Swiffer, the 11-year-old Procter & Gamble brand, is hiring Mr. Millan to help with a different sort of behavior modification: getting consumers to forgo traditional floor cleaning devices and buy Swiffer products.

“Mops and brooms are really what we’re going after,” said Marchoe Northern, a Swiffer brand manager, adding that women were the target consumers. “It’s really about habit adaption at first — getting the Swiffer in her house — and then habit formation.”

P&G: I’m not a woman. I’m your target. Stop being so sexist.

Organ transplants are risky – pets and food can make them worse

Keeping pets healthy can reduce infection risks for people who have received solid organ transplants and veterinarians should be seen as an integral part of the healthcare team.

That’s just one of the recommendations in a new supplement in the American Journal of Transplantation. Dr Robin K Avery from the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, said,

"Our paper aims to highlight the infection risks that transplant recipients experience in their daily lives. These include pet ownership, food safety, safe sex, sporting activities and work-related issues."

Those are some of my favorite activities, although not in that order.

* Wash hands frequently and thoroughly to prevent infections transmitted by direct contact, such as food, pets and gardening, even if gloves are used. Patients should avoid changing baby’s diapers if possible.

* Steer clear of foodstuffs like unpasteurised cheese, salad dressings made with uncooked eggs, raw seed sprouts, cold cuts and smoked seafood.

* Balance the psychological benefits of pet ownership with the potential infection risk. A variety of infections can be transmitted to humans from animals like young cats, reptiles, rodents, chicks and ducklings. Animal feces are also dangerous, so cleaning out cages and litter boxes should be avoided or disposable gloves and face masks worn. Ideally the transplant recipient should wait at least a year before getting a new pet.

KATIE FILLION: Peanut paste potentially poisons pooch

An elderly dog in Atlanta, Georgia has passed on following consumption of Austin-brand peanut butter crackers recalled during the current Salmonella outbreak.

The outbreak, linked to Peanut Corp. of America’s peanut paste and related products, is responsible for at least seven (human) deaths, nearly 500 illnesses (over 100 of which have been hospitalized), and reported illness in pets.

Atlanta Dogs Examiner reports the dog, Ozzie, ate Austin brand peanut butter crackers a few days before their recall was announced.

Like some other pet owners, Bert Kanist of Atlanta gave his dogs human food as treats, and his dog Ozzie loved peanut butter crackers. He ate two packages of them, became ill the next day, and succumbed to the illness within 24 hours.

Now Mr. Kanist reports that he’s getting the run-around from both government agencies and from Kellogg’s, the owner of Austin brands. Because his dog’s body was cremated, a necropsy can’t be performed, but testing for the presence of salmonella is being done on peanut butter crackers from the same case as the one the suspect crackers were from.

Dog treats are included in the recall, and a full list of recalled products is available on the FDA website at: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/Salmonellatyph.html.

Pediatrics warns against pets for toddlers

Young children should not keep hedgehogs as pets — or hamsters, baby chicks, lizards and turtles — because of risks for disease.

That’s according to the nation’s leading pediatricians group in a new report about dangers from exotic animals.

Besides evidence that they can carry dangerous and sometimes potentially deadly germs, exotic pets may be more prone than cats and dogs to bite, scratch or claw — putting children younger than 5 particularly at risk, the report says.

Young children are vulnerable because of developing immune systems plus they often put their hands in their mouths and are awkward at handling animals, the report says.

The report appears in the October edition of the American Academy of Pediatric’s medical journal, Pediatrics.

A spokesman for the International Hedgehog Association said there’s no reason to single out hedgehogs or other exotic pets.

‘‘Our recommendation is that no animal should be a pet for kids 5 and under,’’ said Z.G. Standing Bear. He runs a rescue operation near Pikes Peak, Colo. for abandoned hedgehogs, which became fad pets about 10 years ago.


Exposure to animals can provide many benefits during the growth and development of children. However, there are potential risks associated with animal exposures, including exposure to nontraditional pets in the home and animals in public settings. Educational materials, regulations, and guidelines have been developed to minimize these risks. Pediatricians, veterinarians, and other health care professionals can provide advice on selection of appropriate pets as well as prevention of disease transmission from nontraditional pets and when children contact animals in public settings.

Cats eating better than their owners

I’ve just started my first year of veterinary school, and after only two days into the program, I’ve been contacted by at least five pet food companies touting their premium pet food that is healthy for pets and tasty as well.  I suppose that pets enjoy the variety of flavors, but a new study from Australia suggests it’s doing more harm than good.

Deakin University scientist Dr Giovanni Turchini
has discovered an estimated 2.48 million tonnes of forage fish – a limited biological resource – is consumed by the global cat food industry each year.

This puts cats ahead of people as far as consumption rates go; pet cats are eating an estimated 13.7 kilograms of fish a year, which far exceeds the Australian average (human) per capita fish and seafood consumption of around 11 kilograms.

Just as obesity has become a major epidemic among Americans, it is also an epidemic among pets.  These tasty canned foods with enticing flavors such as “shredded yellowfin tuna fare” only encourage pets to grow wider around the belly all while pet food companies continue to cook up new ideas for making cats want their food.

What happened to cats eating regular dry food?  Though, even the dry food goes overboard for Fancy Feast, which touts three different flavors for the finicky cat.  With the slogan of “A bowl full of ‘I love you,’” Fancy Feast has definitely gone overboard in pampering cats.  If you love your pet, then why are you feeding it a high-fat meal?

The luxury products containing fish unfortunately are contributing to the overfishing problem worldwide.

Reptile firm in Florida convicted for selling turtles

Turtles do not make good pets.  The best people to attest to it would be Julie and William Godwin, the parents of three-week-old Shanna Godwin, who was killed in Feb. 2007 by Salmonella Pomona from a pet turtle in their home.

To combat the public health impact of turtle-associated salmonellosis, in 1975 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned commercial distribution of turtles less than 4 inches in length.
It has been estimated that the FDA ban prevents some 100,000 cases of salmonellosis among children each year.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on cases of turtle-associated salmonellosis in humans during 2006-2007, and the report concludes that the ban "likely remains the most effective public health action to prevent turtle-associated salmonellosis."

This week Strictly Reptile Inc. in Southern Florida was convicted for violating the ban on the sale of turtles with a shell length of less than 4 inches.

At least 103 cases of turtle-associated salmonellosis have been reported since May 2007, and many of those infected were children under the age of 10, the CDC said.  This makes it quite evident that turtles are still problem pets in people’s homes.