I thought by now, with all of the publicity it has received, that most people would be aware of the association between small turtles and salmonella infections.

I thought by now, with all of the publicity it has received, that most people would be aware of the association between small turtles and salmonella infections.


Because it is such a serious medical issue, the sale of small turtles was banned by the federal government in 1975. This ban applies to turtles whose shell measures less than 4 inches.


However, these small turtles are still available and are present in many homes throughout the country. They are being sold in pet stores, flea markets and online. Some are brought home by Junior after finding a turtle in his backyard.


Turtles are also sold by street vendors. Recently, in Baltimore, police seized 96 small turtles that were being sold illegally in the city streets.


The ease of getting these turtles creates a serious health problem.


It has been estimated that 11 percent of all salmonella infections in young people are associated with exposures to turtles and other reptiles.


A salmonella infection can be very serious, sometimes even fatal. Symptoms include diarrhea, which can be severe, requiring intravenous fluids. Also present are vomiting, fever and abdominal cramps.


A recent article reported the largest outbreak of turtle-associated salmonella infections in the United States. Most of the infections involved young children. The majority of parents who bought the pet turtles were unaware of their association with salmonella infections.


To prevent these serious infections, the present laws against purchasing them must be enforced.


The media must give greater attention to this issue and help educate the public about the relationship between turtles and salmonella infections.


Consider yourself now educated.


Most salmonella infections are not due to contact with turtles, but are secondary to eating food that is contaminated with this bacterium. Salmonella is present in the gastrointestinal tract and as a result of poor hygiene, such as infrequent hand washing by people who prepare food, the bacterium spreads to the food we eat.


Whether a person gets salmonella by eating contaminated food or contact with an infected turtle, the majority of times, this serious infectious disease can be prevented.


And if you become one of the many people who suffer from the symptoms of a salmonella infection, you will regret that you did not take the proper preventative measures.


Massachusetts-based Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of the National Birth Defects Center, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.