The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported nine cases of Salmonella infection across eight states that are linked to pet guinea pigs. No deaths have been reported, but one person has been hospitalized.

According to an outbreak advisory issued by the CDC, illnesses started on dates ranging from July 17, 2015, to Dec. 15, 2017. In December 2017 the CDC identified a cluster of three Salmonella Enteritidis infections that whole genome sequencing showed were closely related genetically.

“This outbreak is a reminder that pet rodents such as guinea pigs, regardless of where they are purchased or adopted, can carry Salmonella bacteria even when they look healthy and clean,” according to the CDC advisory.

States involved in the outbreak include Colorado with two cases and one case each in Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Virginia and Vermont. Public health officials interviewed seven people, and four of the seven people interviewed reported contact with a guinea pig or its habitat in the week before getting sick.

According to the CDC, the outbreak strain of Salmonella was identified in a sample collected from an ill person’s pet guinea pig in Vermont.

“This result provides more evidence that people in this outbreak got sick from contact with pet guinea pigs,” the CDC reported.

Anyone who has had contact with pet rodents such a guinea pigs and developed symptoms of Salmonella infection should seek medical attention and tell their doctors about the possible exposure so that the proper diagnostic tests can be performed.

Illness from Salmonella usually lasts four to seven days, and most people recover without treatment. However, in some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the person needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infections are more likely to be severe for children younger than 5 years, older adults and people with weakened immune systems, such as people with cancer, diabetes, and liver or kidney disease.

While contracting Salmonella, E. coli, Campylobacter and other bacteria from pets such as rodents is relatively easy, the following preventive measures recommended by public health officials are important and simple to follow, according to the CDC.

Pick the right pet

  • Young children should be closely supervised with guinea pig or any other pets. Photo illustration

    Pet rodents, including guinea pigs, are not recommended for families with children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, elderly adults, or people with weakened immune systems because these groups are at greater risk for serious illness.

  • Pet rodents should not be kept in childcare centers, schools, or other facilities with children younger than 5 years.

Wash your hands

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching, feeding, or caring for pet rodents or cleaning their habitats.

Play safely

  • Do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold pet rodents close to your face. This can startle your pet and increase the chance it will bite you. Bites from pet rodents can spread germs and possibly make you sick.

Never eat or drink while playing with or caring for your pet rodent

  • Keep pet rodents, food and water bowls, and other supplies out of the kitchen or other areas where food is prepared, served, or consumed.

Be aware that pet rodents can carry germs that can contaminate surfaces in areas where they live and roam

  • You don’t have to touch pet rodents to get sick from their germs.
  • Make sure rodent enclosures are properly secured and safe so your pet doesn’t get hurt or contaminate surfaces.

Clean and disinfect rodent habitats, food and water bowls, and other supplies outside your home when possible

  • If you clean rodent supplies indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area immediately after.
  • Never clean rodent habitats or their supplies in the kitchen sink, other food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.

Talk to your veterinarian about your pet rodent’s health

  • Your veterinarian can play a key role in helping you and your pets stay healthy.

Tell your healthcare provider that you have been around pet rodents, whether at home or away from the home, especially if you are sick or have been bitten or scratched.

Some germs carried by pet rodents can cause serious and life-threatening illness in people. More tips for pet rodent owners to prevent infection can be found on the CDC website.

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