A turtle may sound like a harmless pet. But believe it or not, those little critters that live and swim around a tiny plastic palm tree island have been banned by the FDA. 

Dr. Joseph Paige is the Consumer Safety Officer in the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. And he says tiny turtles are salmonella factories – and can make anyone who touches them incredibly sick.

The salmonella bacteria live in the digestive systems of turtles. And their shells and the water in their tank are literally teeming with germs. In fact, just touching the turtle – and then your eye, nose or mouth – is enough to make you sick. It can be fatal to infants, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system. And for everyone else, it can take several months before you completely recover. 

In fact, reptiles and amphibians of any sort can be contaminated with salmonella. And even if you’ve had your turtle for ages doesn't put you in the clear. At least 72% of those sickened by salmonella had their pets for quite a while. But young children are more likely to touch and play with turtles. And according to the CDC, 63% of diagnosed cases are among kids, 10 years old or younger, and 29% are under a year old. 

Unfortunately, plenty of people aren’t taking the “pet turtle ban” very seriously. Vendors get around the law by giving turtles away for free when a customer buys the palm-tree habitat. And as a result, the CDC says that the number of salmonella cases linked to pet turtles is on the rise. 

If you have a turtle, make sure you always wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap after touching them or their living quarters. And you might want to put the habitat where your kids can’t get to it without parental supervision.