It’s humbling to care for an animal that reminds
you, each day, of your own imminent death.
AMERICANS are predatory. They invade other countries, prey on native populations and exploit their resources. They are typically voracious, opportunistic and highly adaptive. It is said they are filthy; they can tolerate living in polluted areas and can carry diseases to which locals have no immunity. As we speak, they are causing global ecological damage.
As a child I was fascinated by turtles; it was just a part of my DNA. Like many other children growing up in the late ‘fifties or early ‘sixties, I had pet turtles, namely baby red-eared sliders.
Amphibians and reptiles can carry salmonella bacteria without appearing sick, says Patricia Griffin, a physician and chief of the enteric diseases epidemiology branch at CDC.
The association between salmonellosis and pet turtles motivated a 1975 federal ban on the sale of turtles with a carapace of <10.2 cm (4 inches) in the United States.
FDA investigations showed that most who became ill had recently been exposed to a pet turtle by touching it, feeding it, cleaning its habitat or changing the water in its tank.
Reptiles and amphibians carry the bacteria in their guts. Their feces can be laced with the stuff. So their skin, or shells, in the case of turtles, can be coated in salmonella. Anyone handling turtles — holding them, cleaning out their tanks, preparing food on a counter across which a turtle has roamed — can become infected with salmonella if they don’t clean the sink or counter thoroughly and wash their hands carefully afterward.
Despite the ban, human infections of the strain of Salmonella associated with turtles seem to be on the rise, says Janell Routh at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Salmonella causes stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. The infections are usually mild but can be serious in infants and people with weakened immunity.
People don't understand that turtles can "appear perfectly happy, healthy and clean" and still carry salmonella, says Casey Barton Behravesh, a veterinarian with the CDC and an author of the study.
Do not have a turtle in any household that includes children under 5, the elderly, or people who have lowered natural resistance to disease due to pregnancy, cancer, chemotherapy, organ transplants, diabetes, liver problems or other diseases. A family expecting a child should remove any pet reptile or amphibian from the home before the infant arrives.