Hedgehogs are just so cute that if you get a chance to hold one, it might be hard to resist giving it a kiss. But please practice restraint, a new alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns. As Amy B. Wang of the Washington Post reports, the agency has warned that hedgehogs have been linked to a recent outbreak of salmonella.
Between late October and late December of last year, 11 people in eight states were infected with Salmonella typhimurium—and ten of the patients reported having recent contact with pet hedgehogs. One person was hospitalized, but there have been no reported deaths. The Salmonella typhimurium strain was identified in samples collected from three hedgehogs living in the homes of two ill Minnesota patients. It isn’t clear if all or some of the salmonella-transmitting critters come from a common supplier, the CDC says.
Salmonella is usually contracted when a person eats contaminated food, but it can be spread from animals—including reptiles, birds, rodents, dogs and cats—to humans. Hedgehogs are among the creatures that have been known to transmit the bacteria. Between December 2011 and April 2013, for instance, 26 people were found to have Salmonella typhimurium, most of whom reported coming into contact with hedgehogs, according to the New York Times’ Julia Jacobs. One person died during that outbreak.
“The fact that hedgehogs are a risk is not new,” Jane Sykes, a professor of small animal internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, tells Jacobs. “But we don’t know how common the shedding of salmonella is among hedgehogs specifically.”
Hedgehogs can carry salmonella in their droppings, even if they appear to be healthy and clean. And those germs spread easily to the animals’ toys, bedding and bodies. So while the animals’ fluffy bellies are infinitely nuzzle-able, getting up close and personal with hedgehogs is not a good idea, according to the CDC.
“Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick,” the agency warns.
Humans should also wash their hands with soap and water after coming into contact with a hedgehog or its habitat. Other precautions include washing habitats outside the house, and making sure that the animals don’t wander freely near areas where food is stored or prepared. Kisses may not be advisable, in other words, but there are ways for hedgehog owners to safely play with their prickly pets.