(The Hill) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning people about kissing small turtles, saying the affectionate gesture could lead to salmonella. 

In an investigation notice, the CDC said that 26 individuals have been infected with the disease outbreak linked to small turtles in 11 states, including six patients in Tennessee and one patient in Kentucky. Nine of the 26 patients were hospitalized. 

“Don’t kiss or snuggle your turtle, and don’t eat or drink around it. This can spread Salmonella germs to your mouth and make you sick,” the health agency said in its notice, adding that turtles with shells less than four inches long are a known source of the illness.

The health agency also highly recommended that children under the age of 5, adults who are 65 years or older, and people with weak immune systems shouldn’t have pet turtles, noting that those people are more likely to get a serious illness from germs that the animals carry. 

“Pet turtles of any size can carry Salmonella germs in their droppings even if they look healthy and clean. These germs can easily spread to their bodies, tank water, and anything in the area where they live and roam,” the CDC’s notice said. “You can get sick from touching a turtle or anything in its environment and then touching your mouth or food with unwashed hands and swallowing Salmonella germs.”

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes more than 1.3 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations and 420 deaths in the U.S. every year. Raw, uncooked food products is its most common source. 

⏩ Read today’s top stories on wkrn.com

Symptoms of salmonella include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, according to the CDC, which said symptoms usually begin six hours to six days after infection and last four to seven days.