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Zoonotic Diseases Of Hamsters: LCM

An explanation of lymphocytic choriomeningitis and how this zoonotic disease can possibly infect hamsters and people.

Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Posted: November 30, 2014, 2:15 p.m. EST

Syrian hamster in habitat
© Leticia Materi, PhD, DVM
Hamsters are not the natural host for the LCM virus; wild mice are, and it’s estimated that about 5 percent of the wild mice in the United States are carriers.

Hamsters are nice to have as pets. They truly are a great addition to most homes. Like many other animals, however, they also have the potential to carry zoonotic diseases. These are illnesses that can spread to people. One such disease is lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM).

LCM is caused by a virus and its natural host and primary reservoir is the common house mouse, Mus musculus. However, it has been shown that other rodents, such as hamsters and guinea pigs, can also carry the LCM virus, usually being infected by wild mice that are infected. Most hamsters that carry this virus do not show signs of disease but, once in awhile, if a hamster has had the virus for a long time or becomes immunosuppressed because of other illnesses, he may show signs such as weight loss, tremors or seizures. The LCM virus is spread in the urine, feces and saliva of infected animals

The virus can spread from hamsters to humans via two potential routes:
1.Directly through scratches and bites 
2.Indirectly through the inhalation/ingestion of material contaminated with virus (i.e., bedding dust contaminated with urine and/or droppings)

This virus can also spread between humans such as through organ transplants from an infected donor or from a pregnant woman to her fetus.

Most healthy humans affected with this virus do not show any signs. If someone succumbs to the virus, they often show signs about 8 to 13 days after infection. Initially, affected humans often show flu-like symptoms, such as reduced appetite, headaches, fever, and aching muscles and joints. They may then appear to make a recovery when the second phase of the infection occurs resulting in neurological symptoms, such as drowsiness, confusion and poor coordination. Roughly 99 percent of those affected make a full recovery. With respect to human embryos, the prognosis is much worse. There is an 80 percent chance that a human fetus will die or develop severe neurological disorders if the mother becomes infected with LCM early in her pregnancy.

How can you avoid getting LCM? Here are some recommendations:

1.Clean cages often and in a well-ventilated area. Use a mask and/or gloves for extra caution if you are immunocompromised.
2.Immediately wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning the cage or handling your pet.
3.Keep your pet hamster away from wild rodents, their nests and droppings.
4.Do not kiss your hamster or hold him close to your face.
5.Monitor young children when they handle hamsters and make sure they wash their hands thoroughly afterward.
6.Do not allow hamsters near food preparation areas.
7.If you are pregnant, avoid contact with hamsters entirely, have others clean the cage, and keep the cage in an area of the home where you are less likely to spend your time.

Proper precautions and hygiene, especially for pregnant women, can go a long way toward preventing problems.

Note: This article is meant for educational purposes only and in no way represents any particular individual or case. It is not for diagnostic purposes. If your pet is sick, please take him or her to a veterinarian.

See all of Dr. Materi's blogs

Like this article? Please share it, and check out:
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Posted: November 30, 2014, 2:15 p.m. EST

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