The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning turtles — including children's pets — can spread a dangerous infection.

The CDC says turtles have been linked to an outbreak of salmonella across the country, with a cluster of cases reported in New York and Pennsylvania. So far 37 cases have been reported in 13 states, requiring 16 people to be hospitalized.

The highest number of cases have been reported in New York, with up to four cases in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. So far no cases have been reported in New Jersey, the CDC said.

According to the CDC, none of the reported cases have been fatal. I said 12 patients were 5 years old or younger. The CDC asked nine of the patients where they got the turtles they came in contact with. Six of them said they came from markets or street vendors, or got the turtles as gifts.

In 1975 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and distribution of turtles with shells smaller than four inches long because they were known to be linked to salmonella infections. The infection is also more common in children. While turtles with smaller shells are more likely to carry the infection, the CDC said all turtles can carry the bacteria.

For those people who already have turtles as pets, the CDC recommends handwashing as the best way to prevent catching or spreading salmonella. It suggests washingwith soap and water after handling or caring for the animals, or after touching their tanks. It is important to not touch your face, other people, or other surfaces until your hands have been washed, the CDC said.

It recommends people under 5 and over 65 stay away from turtles. IT recomments ths same for people with weakened immune systems.Turtles should also not be allowed to roam around the house freely, especially in places where food is prepared. They should also be cleaned in bathtubs and not in sinks, and the tubs should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected afterwards.

There are also options for people who have turtles but no longer want them. The CDC said  turtles should not be released into the wild. Instead, it said, pet stores, animal shelters or zoos are among the places that might take them. Turtle owners can also consult with their veterinarians to find alternatives.

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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com

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