Your Mother's Cooking Is More Likely to Give you Salmonella Than a Turtle
When the Misinformed Act Informed.
Dihydrogen Monoxide is tasteless, odorless, and colourless. It kills thousands of people daily. Accidentally inhaling it can kill you and prolonged exposure to its solid form will cause severe tissue damage. It can cause burns and if you ingest it, you may experience excessive sweating, urination, some bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Its effects don't end there. It contributes to erosion of landscape, buildings, and monuments, it's a component of acid rain, accelerates rusting and corrosion of metals, is known to cause electrical failures and it has even been found in excised tumors of terminal patients. Yet the government and the disease centres do nothing, while this contamination reaches epidemic proportions. It is found in our air, soil, plants, and animals.
The above is a mostly well known play on words and an excellent case study on manipulation of information to suit one's purpose. Dihydrogen Monoxide, is water. The show Penn and Teller actually got hundreds of people to sign a petition against Dihydrogen Monoxide.
I am not sure if it is the advent of Facebook, something wrong in schools and homes, or maybe it is the natural course of humanity, but it seems that many supposedly intelligent people fall hook, line, and sinker for these types of factual fallacies quite often. No one wants to check facts. To repeat the words of others without fully understanding the whole topic is lazy, pure and simple. More critical thinking and a little more scepticism that encourages people to learn and question further is important.
This article is an attempt to share some truths and facts about the connection between reptiles and salmonella. This is an attempt to educate, inform, and maybe change a few perspectives.
Salmonella Fact Sheet
- Salmonella is a rod-shaped, oxygen-dependant bacteria that inhabits the intestinal tracts of as many as 90 percent of reptiles. It is also found on raw chicken and sometimes beef or pork, in unpasteurized dairy products, eggs, and homemade foods like hollandaise sauce, mayonnaise, ice cream, cookie dough, and salad dressings can put you at risk for salmonella poisoning if the food is not prepared hygienically.
- It is also found in a wide variety of mammals' droppings such as cats, dogs, sheep, cows, chicken, wild turkey, and most wild birds were found to have salmonella in their droppings as well. There are roughly 2000 subtypes of salmonella. Some even live in the soil.
- Symptoms of salmonella illness include fever, chills, sudden onset of headache, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and sometimes vomiting. These will last anywhere from 3-10 days, with 4-7 being more commonly suffered. If you're infected, fear not you will not join the ranks of the walking dead and be held responsible for your family, friends, and neighborhood having painful and frequent trips to the bathroom. Healthy people usually recover without medical assistance or treatment. Young babies, kids, the elderly, and immune-compromised people may need medical assistance.
- In order to become sick with salmonella one needs to eat foods improperly cooked, handled, or touched by the source and not properly wash one's hands. In order to get salmonella you have to put the source into your mouth (which is the most common means of contraction), eyes, or cuts. You can not get salmonella from a sneeze or cough, you must touch the source then smoke, lick your fingers, eat, or rub your eyes and all of these actions must be done without proper hand hygiene.
Did you own a pet turtle?
The myth that holds reptiles and amphibians responsible for salmonella poisoning is just that, a myth. But why did it become a common conjecture? There was a time when quarter-sized turtles, most of which were red-eared sliders, became all the rage and pet stores were literally overflowing with them. They were selling like hot cakes as were the small tanks and dried fruit flies that these turtles needed. Parents took these new pets home and set up small fish bowl-sized tanks in their kids' rooms, their living rooms, and in their dining rooms.
The types of tanks they bought did not usually have filters and if the tank's water was not changed every few days it become dirty and even polluted. Turtles eat and defecate in water; when the water is not maintained and kept clean a turtle's environment can become unsanitary. Sometime during the height of the pet turtle trade there was an epidemic or outbreak of salmonella and turtles were the ones being blamed.
Mythology says that some parents let their children swim in non-chlorinated water in an underground pool, in which turtles lived. When it became knowledge that turtles were the sole cause of this epidemic, fear of the unknown took hold. Turtles became public enemy number one.
Rather than educate the people about proper hand-washing or the risks associated with reptiles in general since they all carry salmonella, the government and various agencies used the people's fear of the unknown to (likely) save the costs associated with educating them and chose to scare them so badly the poor turtles would forever more be branded as a dangerous pet to own.
This whole era was a period of pet turtle history that is stomach-turning for me. Numerous turtles were slaughtered, flushed, and released into non-native environments. All of these actions did worse damage than that of a few days of fanny issues. Do not think I am making light of this, nor am I blaming the parents or the governments and agencies. There were many factors that lead to this modern day dark age.
In my research for this opinion piece, I found that many countries were on board with teaching the importance of hand-washing, responsible pet ownership, and providing accurate scientific-based facts. There was one country that was not on board, one that still promoted the turtles as a bio hazard of the early 1970s and 1980s, their fact sheets were not strictly fact.
Surprise! How to Wash Your Hands
You didn't think I was going to skip this part did you? This is the core of the problem with reptiles, improper hand hygiene. I will be the first to admit, I probably kissed my turtle a few times when I was 7 or 8 years old, not with permission mind you, nor did I always wash my hands before or after handling him or his tank. No, I have never had salmonella, and most turtle keepers I know have never had it either.
It is really amazing, how many people really do not know how to properly wash their hands and how much they miss during a handwash, even one where they know they will be tested afterwards. Want a scary fact? Doctors are the worst at washing their hands, nurses and most other health care workers are great, doctors not so much. Below is a short video clip on how to properly wash your hands. There are six steps:
- Wet hands with warm water.
- Apply soap and lather thoroughly (the more bubbly the better).
- Rub hands together, ensuring to get the palms, thumbs, the sides of each palm and in-between fingers, feel free to curl your fingers and rub your nails lightly along your palm.
- Rinse the lather away.
- Dry hands with a clean dry paper towel (it shouldn't be soaking wet when you're done).
- Then use the same paper towel to turn off the tap (it's dirty!) and to open the door.
Say "no" to Salmonella with Proper Handwashing
So I have to ask, why are people still saying that touching a turtle will give you salmonella?
Why is it that when large dogs attack, maim, and kill children, the elderly, and people in general, there are no cries to slaughter the dogs? Instead people say we "need more education for dog owners, that dogs need more training, that dogs must have been abused, etc." There are a thousand excuses for the cute and furry man's best friend, but when a shelled relic of the world crosses your path there is a lack of similar understanding.
I believe in educating pet owners.
Wash your hands after handling turtles and turtle habitats, ensure that turtle tanks are set up properly with filtration capabilities. The cleaner a turtle's environment is, the better cared for he is, and the less likely he is to be intensely covered with and dripping in salmonella.
And please stop educating people when you don't know a damn thing about anything.