Petco Animal Supplies Inc., the San Diego-based retailer, is responding to turtle-related salmonella infections in the United States by initiating a “turtle relinquishment program” in partnership with Concordia Turtle Farm.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is collaborating with public health officials in multiple states and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate six overlapping, multistate outbreaks of human salmonella infections linked to exposure to turtles or their environments. More than 215 illnesses have been reported from 34 states; 66 percent of ill persons are children age 10 or younger, and 30 percent of ill persons are children age 1 year or younger.

Since 1975, the FDA has banned the sale and distribution of small turtles with shells measuring less than 4 inches in length. The CDC is encouraging owners of aquatic turtles under the federally mandated 4-inch carapace length to relinquish them in hopes of preventing further spread of the disease.

Although the risk for salmonella infection is higher among the smaller turtles, Petco stores are accepting any aquatic turtle regardless of size. So far, Petco has accepted 111 turtles through its relinquishment program. Those under 4 inches are being shipped to Concordia Turtle Farm.

The CDC and Petco warn against keeping turtles captured in the wild as pets or keeping reptiles in child care centers, nursery schools or other facilities with young children. Additional precautions include washing hands thoroughly with soap and warm water, or a hand sanitizer if water is not available, immediately after touching reptiles or anything in the area where they live and roam.