Many types of bacteria often live harmlessly in and on animals and humans, but some bacteria pose a threat. Salmonella bacteria can be dangerous to people and make us ill, but some animals carry these microbes without showing any signs of sickness. Pet turtles and wild songbirds are two animals that can both carry and transmit Salmonella without looking sick themselves.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning the public about a recent outbreak of Salmonella that's been linked to bird feeders. News of the outbreak started with California's Department of Fish and Wildlife; they'd gotten tons of calls about dead finches in bird feeders. The agency determined that the birds died from Salmonellosis, caused by the Salmonella bacteria.
Birds can easily spread the bacteria to each other through contaminated food and water, when they come into contact with the same surfaces, or feces from infected birds. Sick birds may sit for a long time, appear weak, or have labored breathing. But birds can also carry Salmonella without looking ill.
Now the CDC has linked the same strain of Salmonella from sick birds to people that have gotten ill; in eight states, nineteen people have been sickened and eight have been hospitalized. Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. More may have gotten infected, but Salmonellosis often resolves on its own so we may not know about all the cases.
There has also been an outbreak of Salmonellosis linked to pet turtles that the CDC has warned about since February.
Good hand hygiene is always important, but the CDC noted that it's crucial for people to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling birds or pet turtles, bird feeders, or pet supplies. They also cautioned against snuggling with pet turtles or eating and drinking around them, and reminded people to clean bird feeders weekly or when visibly dirty.
Other information about what consumers should know before buying a pet turtle can be found here.
If you are concerned that you may have a Salmonella infection, you should get in touch with a healthcare provider immediately if you get a fever higher than 102°F, symptoms like diarrhea last longer than three days, or there is dehydration or excessive vomiting. Learn more here.