CDC Investigates Multistate Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Guinea Pigs

March 7, 2018
Kerry Lengyel

Nine people have been discovered as infected with a specific strain of Salmonella enteritidis. After an investigation, contact with pet guinea pigs has been identified as the likely source of the outbreak.

An investigation into multiple Salmonella enteritidis infections that occurred over the last 3 years has identified the likely culprit—pet guinea pigs.

The CDC, several states, and the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have been investigating this multistate outbreak since December after a cluster of Salmonella enteritidis infections were identified as being closely related genetically.

Since the investigation began, 9 people have been reported from 8 states—Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Virginia, and Vermont—with the specific outbreak strain of Salmonella enteritidis. One person was hospitalized, but no deaths were reported.

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After looking into why these 9 people contracted this specific Salmonella infection, CDC investigators discovered several indicators leading to pet guinea pigs:

  • Four of the 7 people interviewed reported contact with a guinea pig or its habitat in the week before getting sick.
  • The specific Salmonella outbreak strain was identified in a sample collected from one infected person’s pet guinea pig in Vermont.
  • Genome sequencing showed the Salmonella bacteria isolated from the people infected and the guinea pig were closely related genetically.

According to the CDC outbreak advisory, “These infections serve as a reminder that pet rodents such as guinea pigs can carry Salmonella even when they look healthy and clean.”

While the identified illnesses were only reported between July 17, 2015 and December 15, 2017, the CDC has alerted the public of the outbreak since illnesses could continue if people are unaware of the associated risk with their pets.

For veterinarians, the CDC asks that they educate pet rodent owners about the risks of acquiring Salmonella infections after coming in contact with their pets. Pet rodent owners should be taught about proper habitat cleaning and how to safely handle their pets, as well.

Pet rodent owners should always wash their hands after touching, feeding, or caring for pet rodents, or cleaning their cages. Pet rodents, such as guinea pigs, are also not recommended for children younger than 5 years of age, according to the CDC.

For more information about this outbreak, contact the CDC at (404) 639-3286.