Dec
28
2005

Last spring Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCMV), a virus common in field mice, hit the consumer news when three human transplant patients died after becoming infected by pet hamsters. The virus was traced to a group of 70,000 hamsters from breeding and distribution facilities in Arkansas and Ohio. At least 22 states received the animals, according to professionals at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), who want veterinarians to warn clients about the risks associated with owning these animals. The main concern is for pregnant women and immune-compromised patients. NEWStat ran a story in June 2005, when the news first hit.

“We are trying not to scare the public but it’s a delicate balance,” said Abbigail Tumpey, MPH, CDC spokesperson. “Our advice to pregnant women is to not own pet or wild rodents, period.” 

California and Connecticut have added LCMV as a reportable, communicable disease, and other states are expected to follow suit, Tumpey said. The CDC investigation shows that a wild rodent infestation infected a population of hamsters at the facilities with LCMV, which is transmitted through urine, droppings and saliva. The disease, which is not airborne, can be aerosolized, Tumpey said. It is normally found in the field mice population, but “it should not be in the pet rodent population,” she added.

Infected rodents do not show symptoms so veterinarians may not think of LCMV during examinations of pocket pets, said Michele Jay-Russell, DVM, MPH, DACVPM. “This is an important issue for clinicians, particularly those who see pocket pets, plus laboratory and public health veterinarians,” added Jay-Russell, who co-authored an article on arenaviruses, a family of RNA viruses that includes LCMV, in JAVMA.

Symptoms vary, depending on exposure and virus strain, but the good news is that “it is one virus lineage point source outbreak,” Tumpey said. AAHA members can email the CDC for more information.

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