People can get diarrhea-causing salmonella bacteria from pet rodents, experts warn in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Usually, people get salmonella from contaminated food, but they can also get it from contact with animals, note the CDC's Stephen Swanson, MD, and colleagues.
In the journal, Swanson's team notes 15 people sickened by salmonella linked to pet hamsters, mice, or rats in the U.S. between December 2003 and September 2004.
Thirteen contracted salmonella directly from the pets. The other two got salmonella from people who had direct contact with pet rodents.
Six patients were hospitalized; four of the hospitalized patients were less than 8 years old.
The cases spanned 10 states, had no apparent link, and involved a drug-resistant type of salmonella.
Such drug resistance may be partly due to widespread preventive use of antimicrobial chemicals in the "pocket pet" industry, the researchers write.
Tips For People With Pet Rodents
"Consumers and those who work with animals should be aware that rodents can shed salmonella and should expect rodent feces to be potentially infectious," Swanson's team writes.
"Handling of pet rodents is a potential health risk, especially for children," they continue.
"To reduce salmonella transmissions, the hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water after handling rodents, their cages, or their bedding," write Swanson and colleagues.
The CDC's web site includes these additional tips:
Closely supervise young children who clean pet rodents' cages. Make sure they wash their hands immediately afterward. Don't eat food or smoke while handling your pet rodent. Don't handle pet rodents in food preparation areas. Don't kiss your pet rodent or hold it close to your mouth.
By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
SOURCES: Swanson, S. The New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 4, 2007; vol 356: pp 21-28. CDC: "Salmonella from Pocket Pets."