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Herps In The News Local or national articles where reptiles or amphibians have made it into the news media. Please cite sources.

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Old 08-27-2004, 07:01 AM   #1
Clay Davenport
WI store resists order to stop offering baby turtles

Dells store resists state order.

Red-eared slider turtles can carry salmonella in their intestinal tract. Texas parks and wildlife
The state health department is investigating the salmonella poisoning of a Kansas child who recently visited the Dells.

By Erica Dimka/Events Reporter

Souvenir City received an immediate cease order to stop distributing baby turtles from the state Department of Health and Family Services Friday after at least one case of salmonella poisoning of a Kansas child who recently bought a turtle from a Wisconsin Dells store and a suspicious illness concerning a Wisconsin Dells child were reported, according to Wisconsin Dells Police Sgt. Brian Landers.

The emergency order hand delivered by Columbia County Public Health Nurse Barb Salna, and obtained by the Events, says the store is ordered to "immediately cease" distributing and to cooperate with health officials in "humanely destroying the turtles."

Souvenir City owner Michael Maleh told the Events Monday, in response to a question concerning the cease order, that "nothing" was different in the situation except he received a letter from state epidemiologists saying there was a threat of communicable diseases.

He added that his attorney has responded to the letter, asking for proof of the threat.

Maleh had said that he is having a UW doctor do culture testing of the turtles, the results of which he should get back later this week.

"If my test results come back positive ... immediately, I will cease and desist sale of my own free will," he said Monday.

Epidemiologist Patricia Fox, a veterinarian with the Department of Health and Family Services, is just one of several department officials investigating the distribution of turtles in the state.

She said the results of any testing are "irrelevant" since turtles can harbor the disease inside them without detection.

"A negative turtle today could be positive tomorrow," she said.

Fox said the department is investigating a reported case of salmonella in a Kansas child, who recently visited Wisconsin and bought a turtle from a Wisconsin Dells store but didn't have the details.

The department is waiting to see if the bacteria matches the turtle type of salmonella with the results expected in a few days.

A Wisconsin Dells woman, whose name is withheld for privacy reasons, said her daughter fell ill after buying a turtle at Souvenir City about six weeks ago. The small child was taken to the emergency room twice as doctors tried to pinpoint what was wrong. The mother says her daughter is "finally feeling better" but still has stomach problems.

"I can't say 100 percent sure it was from the turtle," the woman said since salmonella tests came back inconclusive.

The five-year-old had an ear infection about the same time and was on antibiotics. Salmonella is treated with antibiotics, so tests cannot pinpoint salmonella poisoning.

Salmonella can cause severe gastrointestinal problems and occasionally results in death.

The CDC estimates that 70,000 people in the United States get salmonella poisoning each year from contact with reptiles including turtles that carry the bacteria in its intestinal tract.

Fox said the problem with small turtles, like the ones the FDA prohibits stores from selling, is that they are more often held by small children, who are more susceptible to the bacteria.

Fox said no other cases of salmonella have been confirmed, but Sgt. Landers reported that county health officials told him there were four possible cases, including the Dells and Kansas children.

He said that the city has no jurisdiction at this point, but the FDA told him Maleh could be fined up to $1,000 per turtle. At one count, Maleh had 900 turtles, Landers said.

Maleh said he is "definitely interested" in the health of his family, employees and customers, but the possible cases are just "rumor."

"I think that's just hearsay," he said, claiming that the only documented infections were several years ago from iguanas.

Fox said the FDA encourages local governments to deal with turtle issues before enforcing it themselves. She said the letter Maleh received Friday is different than an enforcement of FDA law, as it is based on a public health concern, and Fox said the matter has been sent to the state's lawyers.

"We're surprised that given all of the information we've provided ... that all of this legal stuff is actually necessary," she said.

Maleh previously told Events that his promotion, which gives turtles away with the purchase of a turtle kit, falls under an FDA exemption that allows the sale or distribution of turtles for "bona fide scientific, education or exhibitional purposes."

The store hands out information and requires customers to sign an affidavit of ownership that the turtle will be used for educational purposes and that they understand the FDA law.

Pacific Sportswear in Lake Delton was also recently warned by the Lake Delton Police Department to stop distributing turtles after the U.S. Humane Society complained. The store voluntary stopped giving away turtles.

The tug-of-war with Maleh remains undecided, but Fox hoped the matter would be resolved quickly.

What is Salmonella?

Salmonellosis (sal-mohn-el-OH-sis) is a bacterial disease caused by the bacterium Salmonella. Many different kinds of Salmonella can make people sick. Most people have diarrhea, fever and stomach pain that start one to three days after they get infected. These symptoms usually go away after a week. Sometimes, people have to see a doctor or go to the hospital because the diarrhea is severe or the infection has affected other organs.

After contact with animal feces (stool), wash your hands with soap and running water.

Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching reptiles or any objects and surfaces that a reptile has also touched.

Reptiles and amphibians should not be allowed to roam freely through a home or living area and should be kept out of kitchens and other food preparation areas.

Don't wash reptiles and amphibians or their cages, dishes, etc. in kitchen sinks. If they are washed in a bathtub, clean it thoroughly and disinfect with bleach.

Children under 5 years old and people with weak immune systems (such as HIV/AIDS) should avoid contact with reptiles.


-Source: CDC

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