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Salmonella outbreak linked to pet hedgehogs, CDC warns

Government officials are investigating a multi-state salmonella outbreak linked to contact with pet hedgehogs. Eleven people, 10 of them children, have reported infections related to the outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases have been reported in eight states: Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, and Wyoming. One person has been hospitalized to date. No deaths have been reported.

Hedgehogs can carry salmonella bacteria in their droppings, even while appearing healthy and clean, the CDC warns. These germs can easily spread to the animals' bodies, habitats, toys, bedding, and any surfaces where they live. People who care for or snuggle the animals can pick up the germs and get very sick.

People affected by the outbreak reported buying their pets from various sources, including pet stores, breeders, or on the internet, and a common supplier has not been identified. 

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Hedgehogs can carry salmonella even when they appear healthy. Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Symptoms of salmonella

A person infected with salmonella can experience diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days.

Most people recover without treatment, but some illnesses can last longer and be very severe, especially in young children, older adults, and people with compromised immune systems.

The CDC estimates salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations, and 450 deaths each year in the U.S.

Safety with pet hedgehogs

A hedgehog may not be the right pet for everyone. These small, prickly mammals are becoming increasingly popular, but they're banned in some municipalities, the Washington Post reports

Since there is a greater risk of salmonella complications in children under 5, adults over 65, and people with weakened immune systems, health officials say households with these individuals might want to consider a different pet.

If you do have a hedgehog, don't kiss or snuggle it, health officials warns. This can spread salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick.

The CDC also recommends the following advice:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching, feeding, or caring for a hedgehog or cleaning its habitat.
  • Don't let hedgehogs roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored.
  • When possible, clean hedgehog habitats, toys, and supplies outside the house.
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