Prickly pets can carry salmonella

Twenty people were infected and one died in the last year from a rare but dangerous form of salmonella bacteria linked to contact with hedgehogs kept as pets. Enlarge photo

Jim Damaske, Tampa Bay Times/Associated Press file photo

Twenty people were infected and one died in the last year from a rare but dangerous form of salmonella bacteria linked to contact with hedgehogs kept as pets.

NEW YORK Add those cute little hedgehogs to the list of pets that can make you sick.

In the last year, 20 people were infected by a rare but dangerous form of salmonella bacteria, and one person died in January. The illnesses were linked to contact with hedgehogs kept as pets, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials on Thursday say such cases seem to be increasing.

The CDC recommends thoroughly washing your hands after handling hedgehogs and cleaning pet cages and other equipment outside.

Other pets that carry the salmonella bug are frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, lizards, chicks and ducklings.

Seven of the hedgehog illnesses were in Washington state, including the death an elderly man from Spokane County in January. The other cases were in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon.

In years past, only one or two illnesses from this salmonella strain have been reported annually, but the numbers rose to 14 in 2011, 18 last year, and two so far this year.

Children younger than 5 and the elderly are considered at highest risk for severe illness, CDC officials said.

Hedgehogs are small, insect-eating mammals with a coat of stiff quills. In nature, they sometimes live under hedges and defend themselves by rolling up into a spiky ball.

The critters linked to recent illnesses were purchased from various breeders, many of them licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CDC officials said. Hedgehogs are native to Western Europe, New Zealand and some other parts of the world, but are bred in the United States.