In recent years, outbreaks of Salmonella in humans have been traced back to pet hedgehogs. In June 2013 alone 26 people were reported to the CDC to be infected with Salmonella Typhimurium that was traced back to pet African pygmy hedgehogs. While hedgehogs probably haven't historically brought the concern of Salmonella to your mind it is becoming an increasing problem as the spiky pets become more popular.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacteria that infects humans but can be naturally harbored on pet reptiles and pocket pets without causing the animal any harm. People infected with Salmonella may develop diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and a fever in as short as 12 hours after coming in contact with an infected hedgehog.
Can I Prevent Myself From Getting Infected?
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) has recommendations for preventing Salmonella infections from pocket pets:
"Washing hands with soap and water after handling rodents or their cages and bedding is the most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of Salmonella transmission. When cleaning up droppings from your pet, always wash your hands thoroughly afterward. Young children, especially those younger than five years old, should be closely supervised when cleaning cages and should wash their hands immediately following handling rodent feces. Do not eat food or smoke while handling your pet. Do not handle pets in food preparation areas. Do not kiss your pet or hold it close to your mouth."
Do All Hedgehogs Carry Salmonella?
No, not all pet hedgehogs will give you Salmonella. It is important to pick a healthy looking hedgehog, though, one that doesn't have diarrhea, isn't lethargic, and have no discharge from the eyes and nose. If a sickly looking hedgehog is in with a bunch of health looking hedgehogs you should also avoid purchasing the healthy ones for fear of exposure to Salmonella.
What If I Already Have a Hedgehog? Can I Get Salmonella?
Your hedgehog may or may not have been exposed to Salmonella in the past but if you've had your pet for some time and he has never had diarrhea you are probably safe. It is still recommended to wash your hands after handling your hedgehog and never kiss them though to avoid possible infection.
How Will I Know if I Have Salmonella?
Diarrhea, abdominal cramping, fever, headache, and stomach pain are all indications that you have been infected with Salmonella. Your doctor will be able to treat your symptoms and diagnose you will Salmonella poisoning. He may even question you as to what you have recently eaten and what animals you have been exposed to in order to discover a possible source of your infection.
Living in constant fear of contracting a bacteria is completely ridiculous. Most healthy people are easily treated if they are infected with Salmonella but it is always a good idea to be cautious. Washing your hands after handling any animal is a good idea and if your hedgehog is every showing symptoms of a Salmonella infection you should get him to your exotics vet (find a vet near you) as soon as possible.