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"Everyone from pediatricians to other public health professionals needs to really stress that reptiles and especially turtles are a source of salmonella infections," she said.
The ban only affects turtles less than about 4 inches in diameter because of reports that young children had gotten sick after putting the small reptiles in their mouths.
David Bergmire-Sweat, a North Carolina epidemiologist who investigated the Union County case, said he's heard of families letting turtles walk on kitchen surfaces where food is prepared, and babies being bathed in sinks where turtle cages are washed.
Because the federal ban was enacted more than 30 years ago, "many people just don't remember," he said.
Recent efforts to overturn the ban, backed by turtle farmers, have failed.
Veterinarian Mark Mitchell, a University of Illinois zoological medicine professor, has been working with Louisiana turtle farmers in research aimed at raising salmonella-free turtles. Initial efforts involved cleansing turtle eggs with antibiotics, but that led to strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Mitchell said now he's focusing on washing eggs in disinfectants similar to chlorine. He says the industry has been unfairly saddled with harsher restrictions than producers of human foods also blamed for recent salmonella outbreaks.
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