According to the CDC, there is a risk of pet hamsters harboring some
darn serious pathogens.
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Hamsters, technically Class: Mammalia; Order: Rodentia; Suborder:
Myomorpha; Superfamily: Muroidea; Family: Cricetidae; Subfamily:
Cricetinae, are cute little pets that people routinely get for their
kids. My sisters used to have some.
But there is a potential for transmission of salmonella, according to a
recent NEJM article, summarized on href="http://www.medpagetoday.com/InfectiousDisease/GeneralInfectiousDisease/tb/4800">Medpage
cute little hamsters can carry nasty salmonella pathogens. A rodent is
That’s the conclusion of an investigation by researchers from the CDC
here, after eight pet hamsters were found in 2004 by Minnesota health
department workers to have died from the same subtype of Salmonella
enterica serotype Typhimurium.
A review of human cases that occurred from December 2003 to September
2004 identified 28 patients with the same rare subtype, according to
Stephen Swanson, M.D., of the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service
The researchers reported two specific human cases that prompted the
investigation — one in South Carolina and one on Minnesota.
In the first case, a four-year-old boy was given a pet hamster from a
pet store, which died two days later. A week after the hamster’s death,
the boy was taken to hospital with fever, watery diarrhea, and
A stool culture yielded the same rare subtype of
style="font-style: italic;">S. enterica
Typhimurium, the researchers said.
In the second case, a five-year-old boy had diarrhea for 14 days,
abdominal cramps, vomiting, and fever. Four days before the boy fell
ill, his family had bought a mouse from a pet store, which immediately
became lethargic and developed diarrhea.
Despite the animal’s illness, “the boy frequently handled and kissed
it,” Dr. Swanson and colleagues reported.
Cultures from the boy and the animal yielded the same rare salmonella
They go on to report about another very serious case, involving a
pregnant woman. She ended up having serious perinatal
complications, as did the infant.
The only advice is to remind people to wash their hands frequently,
certainly after handling rodents. But the report suggests
that pregnant women may want to be especially careful. It
also suggests that perhaps people should limit contact with new rodent
pets for a couple of weeks after obtaining it. Might be hard
to do, with eager kids around.