An investigation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that rodents purchased from pet stores are responsible for a salmonella outbreak that sickened more than two dozen people.
This is the first documented case where the bacteria has been linked to hamsters, mice, and rats, according to the May 6 issue of the agency’s bulletin Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Rodents are popular pets among school-age children.
Almost six million U.S. households currently keep small animals, according to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association’s 2005 National Pet Owners Survey. Fifty percent of owners acquired them from pet stores.
It is unknown how many pet rodents carry Typhimurium—the strain of salmonella involved in the outbreak in question.
The strain is commonly found in human infections, though, and is resistant to at least five different classes of antibiotics.
“They’re cute but potentially contaminated,” expert warns. “The fur of the animals can be microscopically covered with feces, so it’s important to thoroughly wash hands after playing with these pets or after coming in contact with their environment.”