Salmonellosis is a significant zoonotic infection often associated with the contact between pet reptiles and humans in the United States. Although the prevalence of salmonellosis contracted from pet reptiles in humans is high, it is hypothesized that wild reptiles, particularly turtles are not active shedders or carriers of Salmonella. This difference may in part be due to variation in environment between wild and captive reptiles. To explore this hypothesis, wild turtles of the North Carolina Piedmont were tested to see if they were actively shedding and/or carrying Salmonella. Free-living turtles admitted to the Turtle Rescue Team of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (NCSU-CVM TRT) were sampled for Salmonella via cloacal swab culture, fecal sample culture, and in some cases, gastrointestinal mucosa culture. Cloacal swab culture samples were collected from wild pond turtles in Wake County, North Carolina. Gastrointestinal mucosa in combination with a cloacal swab or fecal material was collected at necropsy from turtles that were presented dead or euthanized upon arrival to the NCSU-CVM TRT. These samples facilitated testing for both carriers and active shedders of Salmonella. Cloacal swab samples were collected from live turtles admitted to the NCSU-CVM TRT and from wild turtles collected from local ponds to test for active shedding. Cloacal swabs were again cultured three weeks post admittance from turtles not receiving antibiotics. Cloacal swabs were also collected from rehabilitating turtles that were rechecked by the NCSU-CVM TRT. These samples were incubated at 35°C in selenite F broths for 18-24 hours, then plated to Salmonella-Shigella agar (SS agar) for 18-24 hours, and finally suspicious colonies were inoculated to urea slants and triple sugar iron (TSI) slants for 18-24 hours. If Salmonella was still suspected, colonies from the urea and/or TSI slants were isolated for biochemical profiling. In total, ninety-four wild North Carolina turtles, belonging to six species in two genera (46 admitted to the NCSU-CVM TRT and 48 captured from local ponds) were tested for Salmonella with a 0% prevalence of the organism in the shedding and carrier state. Although the prevalence of salmonellosis contracted from pet reptiles in humans is significant, it was determined that wild turtles in central North Carolina are not active shedders or carriers of Salmonella. Despite this 0% prevalence of Salmonella, proper hygiene should be followed when handling and maintaining all reptiles.
This project was funded by Merck-Merial and the Dr. Robert Koller NCSU-CVM Endowment.