FRIDAY, March 29, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- They're tiny, furry and cute, but hedgehogs as pets can bring salmonella dangers, U.S. health officials warned on Friday.
There have been 17 cases of the serious gastrointestinal infection across 11 states -- all linked to contact with hedgehogs, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Hedgehogs can carry salmonella germs in their droppings while appearing healthy and clean," the CDC warned in a statement. "Germs can easily spread to their bodies and anything in the area where they live."
Salmonella is no joke, the agency added.
"Most people infected with salmonella develop diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps 12 to 72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria," the CDC said, and although most will recover, "the illness usually lasts four to seven days."
Since the last update on hedgehog-linked salmonella cases, which was issued in late January, six new cases have been identified, bringing the total to 17. Two of the cases were so severe as to require hospitalization, although no deaths have been reported.
Of the 14 cases with information available to the CDC, six cases involved children under the age of 13.
That's why the agency stressed that people -- adults and kids alike -- shouldn't "kiss or snuggle hedgehogs, because this can spread salmonella germs to your face and mouth, and make you sick."
And if you do handle a hedgehog, or clean out its cage, "always wash hands thoroughly with soap and water right after," the agency said. "Adults should supervise handwashing for young children."
States so far affected by the outbreak are Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
The CDC said that no one supplier of pet hedgehogs has yet been identified as the source of the outbreak, and families affected got their pets from various sources, including online. New cases have been ongoing since October 2018.
In other tips, the CDC suggested that people with children under 5, or families with seniors or people who have weakened immune systems shouldn't get a pet hedgehog, due to the salmonella danger.
And, certainly, don't let your hedgehog "roam freely in areas where food is prepared or stored, such as kitchens," the CDC said. It's also probably best to clean the animal's habitat and toys outside, away from the interior of the home, when possible.
There's more on salmonella at foodsafety.gov.