Understanding the recent hedgehog Salmonella outbreak

March 17, 2019
Anissa Fritz, contributing writer

dvm360, dvm360 May 2019, Volume 50, Issue 5

Hedgehogs are so cute that they can make you sick, literally. Here's what the CDC wants you (and your veterinary clients) to know.

Eleven cases of Salmonella typhimurium have been confirmed in eight different states in the last three months, and the CDC suspects hedgehogs to be the cause.

Ten out of the 11 diagnosed individuals had contact with a hedgehog, according to the CDC. No link has been found between the infected hedgehogs and a specific retailer.

But human infection caused by pets isn't new news. In fact, the CDC reports an outbreak (usually due to a species of Salmonella) caused by human-to-animal interaction almost every year. Lorelei D'Avolio, LVT, VTS (Exotics), CVPM, believes that people continue to contract diseases from exotic pets due to lack of education on zoonotic risks.

“Everyone knows not to change your cat's litter box if you're pregnant or that dogs can have mange or ringworm. But people don't really think about things that exotic pets might carry like Salmonella,” D'Avolio says.

What your clients need to know

Use these preventative tips from the CDC to help educate your clients:

  • Don't kiss or snuggle your hedgehog: doing so makes germs easily accessible to the mouth.
  • Wash your hands: Do this every time you come in contact with a hedgehog, not just when picking up its feces.  
  • Keep your hedgehog out of the kitchen-or anywhere food is prepared and consumed. While the virus presents itself in the animal's droppings, it easily and often spreads onto their bodies.
  • Clean poop doesn't mean Salmonella-free. Even if your hedgehog's droppings look normal, that doesn't mean it doesn't contain bacteria. Play it safe by always washing your hands or wearing gloves.

Don J. Harris, DVM, says outbreaks such as this are a question of mechanics, not prevalence. To illustrate, Dr. Harris refers to the “four-inch law”-an FDA regulation that prohibits pet stores from selling turtles under four inches in diameter to help prevent children from contracting Salmonella orally. Children under the age of 5 and adults over 65 are most prone to animal-caused infections, according to the CDC.

“The threat of Salmonella is inversely proportional to the size of the animal,” Dr. Harris says. “The smaller the animal, the less likely they are to carry Salmonella. But the easier it is to be transmitted if they have it.”

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