Tiny turtles are undoubtedly adorable creatures, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning people to steer clear of giving them a cuddle and a kiss following a salmonella outbreak.
The agency said 15 people have been infected with salmonella with five hospitalized, though no deaths have been reported yet, according to an investigation notice.
People can get salmonella by touching a turtle or something in its environment and then touching their mouth or handling food, regardless of the animal’s size, the CDC said.
Those affected are aged between 1 to 59, with outbreaks reported in 11 states so far. However, the agency said the number could be higher as many cases may not have been reported and many people recover without seeking medical attention.
The CDC also noted it usually takes two to four weeks to determine whether a sick person is part of an outbreak, adding that symptoms caused by the bacteria include diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps that usually resolve within four to seven days.
Health officials investigating the outbreak have interviewed nine people affected so far, finding eight had interactions with pet turtles the week before they got sick.
The agency said six people in this outbreak admitted to purchasing their turtles online, with three purchases from a website called MyTurtleStore.com. Of those three, two have a strain of bacteria collected from sick people. Seven people said they’d been in contact with a turtle less than 4 inches long.
The CDC doesn’t recommend pet turtles for children younger than 5, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems as those groups are more susceptible to illnesses from the germs turtles can carry.
People should always wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching or feeding a turtle and after touching or cleaning the area where it lives and roams.