Those tiny, prickly, adorable mammals — which have jumped in popularity as household pets in recent years — may be carrying salmonella germs and spreading them to nearby humans, according to the CDC.
“CDC and public health officials in several states are investigating a multistate outbreak of Salmonella ... infections linked to contact with pet hedgehogs,” the agency’s notice read.
As of Friday, the CDC said there had been 11 people in eight states sickened by a strain of Salmonella typhimurium; in 10 of the 11 cases, “ill people reported contact with a hedgehog,” the agency said.
Though one person was hospitalized, no deaths have been reported. Three cases were reported in Missouri, two in Minnesota and one each in Colorado, Maine, Mississippi, Nebraska, Texas and Wyoming.
Researchers collected samples from hedgehogs in the two Minnesota patients' homes and identified the strain of salmonella that was making people sick. It’s still unclear if all or some of the pet hedgehogs came from “a common supplier,” the CDC said.
Symptoms of a salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps lasting four to seven days. In rare cases, a salmonella infection can lead to death — a dire enough risk that the CDC gently suggested certain households “might consider a different pet.”
However, for those who could never part with little “Spike,” “Sonic” or “Shaquill O’Neal,” the agency has recommended avoiding certain direct contact with their hedgehogs: That is, not nuzzling them or propping them up to your face for the perfect Instagram photo.
“Don’t kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread Salmonella germs to your face and mouth and make you sick,” the CDC warned. “Don’t let hedgehogs roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens.”
If you do touch a hedgehog or clean its supplies, wash your hands immediately afterward. And don’t clean your hedgehog’s cage or toys in the same place you prepare human food.
This may be a tall order for a new crop of hedgehog owners eager to cuddle with their new pets. Just last week, hedgehogs were legalized as household pets in Fairfax County, Virginia’s most populous county, as The Washington Post’s Dana Hedgpeth reported. They are legal in most of the United States — but remain banned in California, Georgia, Hawaii, New York City, Pennsylvania and the nation’s capital, according to the Hedgehog Welfare Society.