Kissing Your Family Pet May Hold a Dangerous Fate


Is there any perfectly safe pet? Perhaps not, for friendly, furry pets like hamsters, mice, rabbits, gerbils and guinea pigs have been blamed for salmonella-borne illnesses suffered by some 30 people in at least 10 states.

According to officials, this is the first known outbreak of salmonella illness tied to such pets (as salmonella infections are common from reptiles) and reveals a previously unknown public health risk.

The Victims

Many of the victims were children: six were hospitalized for vomiting, fever and severe diarrhea, and some passed the illness on to others. (The germ was resistant to five drugs spanning several classes of antibiotics.)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began its investigation of the illness last year after a 5-year-old Minnesota boy was sickened with salmonella after playing and kissing a pet mouse that had severe diarrhea and later died. Tests indicated both the child and the pet had a drug-resistant strain of salmonella--a relative of the germ that causes typhoid fever.

What causes the strain to emerge? Diarrhea is common in rodents; many animal dealers use antibiotics routinely to prevent this. Health officials speculate such use may have spurred this multidrug-resistant strain of salmonella to emerge.

Some CDC Recommendations:

  • Wash hands well after handling rodents, their cases or bedding. (People should wash their hands thoroughly even after contact with the family dog.)

  • People should not kiss pets or hold them close to their mouths.

  • Pets should be kept away from kitchens and food.

San Francisco Chronicle May 5, 2005

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Contracting infections from pets is a health risk that very few of us consider serious. While snuggling up on the couch with your pet may seem like a harmless act to you, please be aware that this is not necessarily the case.

Aside from salmonella, the most common infections related to contact with household pets include:

Dogs and Cats

  • Campylobacter infection: Campylobacter jejuni is a bacteria that can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain and fever in people. The campylobacter bacteria may exist in the intestinal tract of an infected household or wild animal, and a person can become infected through contact with their feces.

  • Cat scratch disease: A person who is bitten or scratched from a feline with Bartonella henselae bacteria may develop swollen and tender lymph nodes, fever, headaches and fatigue, a condition known as cat scratch disease, which usually resolves without treatment.

  • Rabies: Rabies is a serious illness caused by a virus that enters a person's body through a bite or wound contaminated by the saliva from an infected animal. Animals that may carry the rabies virus include dogs, cats, raccoons, bats, skunks and foxes.

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever: RMSF is carried by ticks that attach themselves to animal skin, particularly dogs. The ticks that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever are infected by the Rickettsia bacteria, which can cause high fever, chills, muscle aches and headaches, as well as a rash that may spread across the wrists, ankles, palms, soles and trunk of the body.

  • Lyme Disease: Like RMSF, Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected tick that may have hitchhiked into your home on your pet. Acute symptoms include a bull's-eye rash where the tick attached, followed by headache, fever, and joint or muscle pain. If not properly diagnosed and treated, Lyme disease can become chronic and result in a host of other symptoms.

  • Dog tapeworm: Most cases of dog tapeworm, or Dipylidium caninum, infection in humans occur in children; they become infected when they swallow an infected flea. Symptoms of tapeworm infestation include itching around the anus, vague abdominal pain and diarrhea.

  • Ringworm: Ringworm, also called tinea, is a skin infection caused by several types of fungi found in the soil and on the skin of humans and pets. Ringworm of the skin, or tinea corporis, usually is a dry, scaly round area with a raised red bumpy border and a clear center.

  • Toxocariasis: Toxocariasis is an illness caused by the parasitic roundworm, Toxocara, which lives in the intestines of dogs and cats and can cause an infection known as visceral larva migrans.

  • Toxoplasmosis: In most healthy people, toxoplasmosis infection is asymptomatic. When symptoms do occur they may include swollen glands, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, sore throat and a rash. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis can cause miscarriage, premature births, and severe illness and blindness in newborns.


  • Cryptococcosis: Cryptococcosis is a fungal disease contracted by inhaling particles from the feces of birds.

  • Psittacosis: Symptoms of this bacterial illness include coughing, high fever and headache. Psittacosis is treated with antibiotics.


  • Salmonellosis: As the above article describes, reptiles, such as lizards, snakes and turtles, are a more common source of salmonella exposure than rodents. Salmonellosis causes symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting and fever. Young children are at risk for more serious illness, including dehydration, meningitis and sepsis.

Other Animals

  • Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM): Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infects rodents, such as mice and hamsters, and people become infected by inhaling particles of rodent urine, feces or saliva. LCM can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, or the infection may lead to meningitis, an inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain.

  • Mycobacteria marinum: This mycobacterial infection may occur in people when they are exposed to contaminated water in aquariums or pools.

For complete details on the various infections that are transmissible by your pets, go to this link.

So, in light of all this information, should you get rid of your pets? Of course not. Following the CDC's simple recommendations should provide you with enough protection to be able to keep right on snuggling.

Also, please remember, when it comes to hand washing, antibacterial soaps are unnecessary and may even be harmful. Simple soap and water is usually sufficient.

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