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Hedgehogs behind growing number of salmonella infections, CDC warns

Hedgehogs, while adorable, might make you serious ill, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency says it has seen a recent uptick in cases of a rare strain of salmonella caused by hedgehogs. In 2011 there were 14 reported cases of humans sickened by hedgehogs, according to the researchers, compared with 18 infections in 2012. There have already been two reported salmonella infections linked to hedgehogs in 2013.

This salmonella strain, called Salmonella Typhimurium, tends to be rare, with an average of only two reported infections per year since 2002. Of the 20 patients infected by hedgehogs since 2012, four patients were hospitalized and one death was reported.

The findings were published Jan. 31 in the CDC's journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Hedgehogs were purchased from various breeders, many of whom were licensed, according to the CDC.

"Salmonellosis is most commonly foodborne; however, contact with infected animals and their environments also can cause illness," the CDC warned.

Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps within 12 to 72 hours of infection. People most at risk for severe illness are children ages 5 and younger, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems.

To reduce risk, the agency recommends washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after handling pet hedgehogs or their treats, especially before you touch food or drinks. Also make sure to clean equipment such as cages and feeding containers outside of the home.

If you're going to bathe your hedgehog, don't use the sink or bathtub, CDC warns. The pets should be bathed in a small plastic tub or bin that is dedicated for hedgehog use only.

Look for detailed cleaning and safe handling instructions from the place you purchased the hedgehog, the agency advises.

Other pets that could cause salmonella include turtles, snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. Also, pocket pets like guinea pigs and hamsters can pass the infection to people, just as dogs, cats, birds), horses, and farm animals can if they pick up the bacteria.

The CDC has more tips for safe handling of hedgehogs.

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