Cholera Hitches A Ride On The Backs Of Soft-Shell Turtles. NPR, June 26, 2017.
You can catch cholera from drinking contaminated water.
You can catch it from raw or undercooked shellfish.
And you can catch it from soft-shell turtles.
Cholera bacteria can colonize the outer surfaces of the Chinese soft-shell turtle, a species that’s found in parts of Asia. Frank Greenaway/Getty Images
That’s the finding of a study published this month by scientists at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And it’s a particular concern in China and many other countries in East Asia, where turtle meat is often used in stews and soups.
The researchers found that the bacterium that causes cholera, Vibrio cholerae, can colonize many of the outer surfaces of a soft-shell turtle, including its shell, legs, neck and calipash — a gelatinous material just underneath the shell and highly prized as a delicacy. The bacteria can also live in turtles’ intestines. The study was published in the scientific journal, Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Although China has relatively few cholera cases compared to other countries, several small outbreaks of cholera are linked to soft-shell turtles every year, often at rural banquets — a troubling sign, considering that turtle consumption in the country has grown to somewhere between 220 million and 330 million pounds per year.
“We found that soft-shell turtles really can carry Vibrio cholerae and cause cholera outbreaks,” said Meiying Yan, one of the study’s authors. “The surface of the turtle was the most important source of Vibrio cholerae O139.” O139 is a strain of cholera circulating in Asia that was discovered in 1992.
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