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Not so cute: Pet hedgehogs sicken 14 with salmonella, CDC says

Rick Bowmer/AP

African pygmy hedgehogs are the source of an outbreak of salmonella infections that have sickened 14 people, including children, health officials said.

Spiky pet hedgehogs may be adorable, but they’re also a source of salmonella infections that have sickened at least 14 people in six states, government health officials said.

Half of those infected with the outbreak strain of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to the prickly critters are kids younger than 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three people have been hospitalized.

The pets in question appear to be African dwarf hedgehogs purchased from multiple breeders in different states, according to laboratory, epidemiologic and trace-back tests.

Illnesses were reported from Dec. 26, 2011, through Aug. 13, 2012. In interviews with 10 people who got sick, all 10 reported contact with the hedgehogs or their environments before becoming ill, CDC officials said.

Five of the illnesses were reported in Washington state, three in Michigan, two each in Minnesota and Ohio and one each in Alabama and Indiana.

The problem is likely contact with hedgehog droppings, which can be a source of human salmonella infections.

“Salmonella germs are shed in their droppings and can easily contaminate their bodies and anything in areas where these animals live and roam,” said a CDC report issued late Thursday. “You should always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching hedgehogs.”

In addition, parents should make sure to supervise hand washing for young children after contact with the animals.

Hedgehogs are only the latest pet to draw warnings from health officials about the potential for salmonella infection. Pet chicks and small turtles have also been linked to hundreds of infections across the country.

Today, the CDC also reports that 168 people from 30 states have been infected with any of three strains of salmonella tied to turtles. More than two-thirds of the victims are younger than 10, the agency reports.

Last month, the CDC reported that 163 people in 26 states had been infected with salmonella tied to live ducklings and chicks linked to an Ohio hatchery.

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