Pet owners beware: Don’t kiss that hedgehog


Beware the hedgehog, for it may give you salmonella.

Pet hedgehogs have sickened two Minnesotans and nine others nationwide in an outbreak reported last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The cases prompted federal health officials to warn pet owners that they should use caution in handling the bristly mammals and wash their hands thoroughly afterward.

This is the second documented outbreak of hedgehog-related salmonella since 2013, when 26 people fell ill, including eight who required hospital care and one person who died.

The strain responsible for the outbreak was identified with help from the laboratory at the Minnesota Health Department in St. Paul. It collected samples from three hedgehogs at two Minnesota homes where people fell ill.

The current outbreak, which began in October, has sent one person to the hospital.

In many of the outbreaks, the animals show no signs of illness and they appear to be clean. But their droppings contain the salmonella bacteria, which then is spread to their bodies, bedding, toys and their human keepers.

No matter how cute the pets may seem, the CDC warns: “Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs.” But even touching an infected hedgehog can lead to human infection. Kitchen areas should also be off-limits because the bacteria can remain on surfaces where food is prepared.

People should wash their hands after handling animals, with adults making sure that children wash their hands properly, said Dr. Joni Scheftel, the public health veterinarian at the Health Department.

“We don’t want to discourage pet ownership at all,” she said. “We just want people to be careful.”

Hedgehogs are not the only pets known to be a source of salmonella. In the past few years the CDC has reported outbreaks linked to guinea pigs, turtles, geckos, bearded dragons and even frozen rodents used as pet food.

There have also been numerous outbreaks linked to backyard poultry, including chickens and ducks. The most recent outbreak last year sickened 334 nationwide, including 24 in Minnesota.

Some animals, like reptiles, carry salmonella bacteria naturally in their intestines, while others become infected at some point.

“We don’t know if hedgehogs are natural salmonella carriers or if at some point they are exposed to salmonella and they are passing it from one to the other,” Scheftel said.

Food safety attorney Ryan Osterholm at the Pritzker Hageman firm in Minneapolis said he had two hedgehogs as a child that tested positive for salmonella, although he never got sick.

He said new, more sophisticated testing will help investigators identify food- and animal-borne outbreaks so they can be traced to a common source. “At some point upstream perhaps these hedgehogs were from a common breeder,” he said.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps up to three days after exposure to the bacteria. Most patients recover within a week, but it can cause complications, especially in young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.

Separately, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture issued a warning Monday about salmonella contamination in some batches of raw turkey pet food sold by Woody’s Pet Food Deli. The product, marketed as cat and dog food, sickened one person in the state, according to an investigation by the Health Department. Both agencies said that raw meat should not be fed to pets.

 

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