CDC investigating Salmonella outbreak possibly linked to guinea pigs, one in Indiana sickened

INDIANAPOLIS -- Health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of Salmonella that may be connected to pet guinea pigs. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the investigation began after its laboratory identified three separate Salmonella Enteritidis infections with genetic similarities which they later connected to a total of six other illnesses dating back to July 2015. 

Nine people infected with this particular strain of Salmonella have been reported in eight different states, including Indiana, according to the CDC. 

The illnesses were reported between July and December of 2017. 

Signs & Symptoms of Salmonella Infection

Most people infected with Salmonella develop the following signs and symptoms 12-72 hours after being exposed to the bacteria:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Abdominal cramps

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How long does the illness last?

  • The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
  • In some people, the diarrhea may be so severe that the patient needs to be hospitalized. Salmonella infection may spread from the intestines to the bloodstream and then to other places in the body.
  • In rare cases, Salmonella infection can cause death unless the person is treated promptly with antibiotics.

Who is more likely to have a severe illness?

  • Children younger than 5 years
  • Adults older than 65
  • People with weakened immune systems

The CDC is using this research to remind people that any rodent, including those kept as pets like guinea pigs, can carry Salmonella bacteria even if they don't appear sick or dirty. 

The CDC offers the following advice to pet owners:

  • Pick the right pet for you.
    • Pet rodents, including guinea pigs, are not recommended for families with children younger than 5 years, pregnant women, elderly adults, or people with weakened immune systems because these groups are at greater risk for serious illness.
    • Pet rodents should not be kept in childcare centers, schools, or other facilities with children younger than 5 years.
  • Wash your hands.
    • Always wash your hands immediately after touching, feeding, or caring for pet rodents or cleaning their habitats.
  • Play safely.
    • Do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold pet rodents close to your face. This can startle your pet and increase the chance it will bite you. Bites from pet rodents can spread germs and possibly make you sick.
  • Never eat, drink, or smoke while playing with or caring for your pet rodent.
    • Keep pet rodents, food and water bowls, and other supplies out of the kitchen or other areas where food is prepared, served, or consumed.
  • Be aware that pet rodents can carry germs that can contaminate surfaces in areas where they live and roam.
    • You don’t have to touch pet rodents to get sick from their germs.
    • Make sure rodent enclosures are properly secured and safe so your pet doesn’t get hurt or contaminate surfaces.
  • Clean and disinfect rodent habitats, food and water bowls, and other supplies outside of your home when possible.
    • If you clean rodent supplies indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub, and thoroughly clean and disinfect the area immediately after.
    • Never clean rodent habitats or their supplies in the kitchen sink, other food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about your pet rodent’s health.
    • Your veterinarian can play a key role in helping you and your pets stay healthy.
  • Tell your healthcare provider that you have been around pet rodents, whether at home or away from the home, especially if you are sick or have been bitten or scratched.
    • Some germs carried by pet rodents can cause serious and life-threatening illness in people.

Options for Unwanted Guinea Pigs

  • Releasing unwanted pet rodents into the wild is not recommended. Many pet retailers, pet stores, local animal shelters, zoos, or animal rescues accept unwanted pets. Talk to your veterinarian about other options.
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