In recent years, outbreaks of Salmonella infections (salmonellosis) in humans have been traced back to the handling of pet hedgehogs. In June 2013 alone, 26 people were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as having infections of Salmonella typhimurium that were traced back to pet African pygmy hedgehogs. Hedgehogs aren't usually associated with Salmonella infections but the risk is real and pet hedgehog owners should know what steps to take to prevent being infected.
What is Salmonella?
Salmonella is a bacteria that infects humans but can be naturally found on pet reptiles and pocket pets without causing the animal any harm. These animals are often considered to be carriers of this bacteria. Salmonella is also found in raw poultry, eggs, beef, and even occasionally fruits and vegetables that have been fertilized with manure.
People infected with Salmonella may have diarrhea, abdominal cramping, and a fever in as little as 12 hours after coming in contact with an infected hedgehog or another source of the bacteria. People usually experience these symptoms of Salmonella for a week or less and then recover without any medical attention. In some cases, Salmonella can cause a person to be hospitalized for symptomatic treatment and in rare cases even cause death.
Preventing Salmonella Infections from Hedgehogs
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommendations for preventing Salmonella infections from pocket pets. They recommend people wash their hands with both soap and water after handling pocket pets, their enclosures, droppings, or things from inside their cages as the primary way to prevent getting a Salmonella infection. Children, senior citizens, and immunocompromised individuals should be especially careful when handling these pets or their items and should of course also wash their hands with soap and water after doing so as well. Other recommendations for preventing Salmonella infections include avoiding eating or smoking while handling a pet that could be a carrier of Salmonella as well as refraining from kissing them or holding them close to a person's mouth.
Can All Hedgehogs Transmit Salmonella to People?
No, not all pet hedgehogs will give a person a Salmonella infection. It is important when choosing a new hedgehog to pick a healthy looking one though. Look for a hedgehog that doesn't have diarrhea, isn't lethargic, and has no discharge from its eyes or nose. If a sickly looking hedgehog is in with a bunch of health looking hedgehogs it is recommended the buyer also avoid purchasing the healthy ones for fear of exposure to Salmonella.
If a person already owns a hedgehog it may or may not have been exposed to Salmonella in the past but if that pet has been owned for some time and has never had diarrhea it is most likely not a carrier of Salmonella. It is still recommended that all pet hedgehog owners wash their hands after handling a hedgehog and never kiss them though to avoid a possible infection.
Signs of a Salmonella Infection in People
Diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, bloody stool, fever, headache, and stomach pain are all indications that a person has been infected with Salmonella. A doctor will be able to diagnose the infection after running some tests and treat the symptoms if necessary. They may even question the individual as to what they have recently eaten and what animals they have been exposed to in order to discover a possible source of the infection. If a person is experiencing diarrhea for more than three days, a fever over 102 degrees, blood in the stool, or prolonged vomiting they should seek medical attention.
Should People Be Worried About Getting Salmonella?
Salmonella is a real threat and hedgehogs may not be a good pet option for immunocompromised individuals because of this but for most people the infection is not life threatening. Living in constant fear of contracting a bacteria is not rational and thankfully most healthy people are easily treated if they are infected with Salmonella but it is always a good idea to be cautious. Washing hands after handling any animal is a good idea and if a pet hedgehog is ever showing symptoms of a Salmonella infection it should be brought to a veterinarian as soon as possible.