"Mycobacterium is much like staph on human skin, and it can be carried by lots of animals."
The bacterium isn't pathogenic until it enters the body, through air passages, cuts or the intestines, she said.
Bannan said mycobacterium doesn't usually affect healthy animals, but it can have serious consequences for animals that are immuno-compromised.
She said treatment for mycobacterium in captive turtles can be lengthy and costly.
"It can take six to 12 months and it's not always successful."
Once the bacterium has spread throughout the body, the turtle will most likely need to be euthanized, she said.
But what concerns Bannan about her research, is that there are no previously recorded cases of mycobacterium in captive turtles in Australia.
"If there is no literature it means it's harder for vets to identify and treat quickly," she said.
Bannan is concerned the disease could transfer to species in the wild.
Often people buy turtles because they're "very cute" when their young, but people find they don't have room for them when they grow and throw them into nearby river or water way, she said.