Hamsters are lovable little creatures, but they can sometimes get sick like all animals. Although not as common as other pet-related diseases, hamsters can still carry and transmit severe illnesses to their owners.
We will highlight the most common diseases that can pass from hamsters to humans, how they are transmitted, and the symptoms to look for.
Hamster diseases that can pass to humans
There are seven notable hamster diseases that can be passed to humans. Keep in mind that transmission can still happen even when the sick hamster isn’t showing any signs of infection or sickness.
Yes, you read that right. COVID-19 is one of the diseases that can be passed from hamsters to humans.
According to a study done by researchers at the University of Hong Kong on the transmission of the Delta variant of the virus from hamsters to humans, genome sequencing and findings indicated that the variant spread within a group of hamsters and later to humans.
Speaking on the findings of the research published in The Lancet medical journal, Prof. Leo Poon, a lead researcher in the study, noted that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that pet hamsters were one of the main causes of the spread of the COVID variant to humans.
“We also provide evidence suggesting the possibility of an international movement of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the pet trade,” he added.
Contrary to what the name “ringworm” suggests, this disease is not caused by worms. It’s a fungal infection that affects a hamster’s skin and is caused mainly by Trichophyton mentagrophytes and Microsporum species of the fungi.
Although some hamsters do not show any signs of ringworm infection, those that do have bald patches that can be red around the edges, crusty, and flaky.
Infection happens through contact with infected animals, humans, or contaminated objects such as beddings and toys. Hamsters can also be exposed to the ringworm-causing fungi if they spend a lot of time outside their cages.
An infected hamster can pass on the infection to humans through contact. Touching an infected hamster’s cage, bedding, or toys without wearing gloves can also lead to infection.
It’s advisable to use disposable gloves when cleaning your hamster’s cage and its contents such as bedding and toys. You should also wash your hands thoroughly afterward.
Tapeworm is a common infection that affects both humans and animals. It’s typically spread through contact with infected skin or fur, and it can cause a rash or itchiness on the affected area. In severe cases, ringworm can lead to hair loss.
An infected hamster may not show any signs, but those with serious cases can suffer lymph node infection as well as blockage and inflammation of the intestines.
Infected people rarely become sick, and the tapeworms may die within weeks, even without treatment.
To protect yourself from potential infection, avoid direct skin contact with a sick hamster and keep its cage clean. You should always wash your hands after handling hamsters or cleaning their cages.
This infection is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis commonly found in rodents, hares, and rabbits. Though tularemia is rare in hamsters, they can get infected by sick mites and ticks and easily transmit it to humans. Infected hamsters may exhibit rough hair coats and die within 48 hours of becoming ill.
Since tularemia is highly contagious and may be fatal to humans, sick hamsters should be euthanized as soon as possible. Their beddings and other materials such as toys should be disposed of carefully, and their cages thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
Since treatment is not viable, it is best to reduce the chances of the disease by treating mice infestation in hamster cages and minimizing exposure to ticks.
Infected humans may exhibit chest pain, cough, and difficulty breathing. These signs may last for several weeks, but most people recover after 10-21 days of antibiotics treatment.
Salmonellosis is a digestive disorder caused by salmonella bacteria. Though the disease is not common with hamsters, they can get infected if the food or bedding is contaminated by the stool of carrier wild rodents or insects.
Asymptomatic and symptomatic hamsters can then transmit the disease to humans mainly through stool contamination of water, food, and when one touches the hamster’s droppings.
Infected hamsters may not show any signs, but some may have matted or wet fur around the belly and tail, loss of appetite, low energy level, and weight loss. Since the symptoms are similar to those of other digestive disorders, the veterinarian will diagnose the issue through laboratory tests and treat it like other diarrhea infections.
Similarly, infected humans may not show symptoms with some developing abdominal cramps, fever, and diarrhea within 8-72 hours after exposure.
Those with strong immunity will recover within 5-7 days without any treatment. Others require anti-diarrheal to relieve the symptoms or antibiotics to kill the bacteria in the bloodstream.
Pseudotuberculosis is another fatal bacterial infection among hamsters that can be transmitted to humans. The disease is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and is mostly transmitted to rodents through contaminated food or water.
Infected hamsters may experience blood infection and extreme weight loss accompanied by diarrhea. This will eventually lead to death as there is no specific treatment.
Sick and exposed hamsters should be euthanized to minimize the spread to humans. However, prevention can be done by eliminating contact of hamsters with birds and wild rodents.
Infected humans may experience fever, diarrhea, and abdominal pains, which may go away without treatment. In serious cases, antibiotics may be administered.
7. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCM)
This is one of the most contagious and fatal diseases that can pass from hamsters to humans. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus is common in wild mice and can lead to infection in humans if they come in contact with the infected hamster’s urine, saliva, or tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes.
An infected hamster may not show any signs and may heal without treatment. However, sick rodents may lose weight, become depressed, and convulse with females experiencing decreased reproduction.
Humans get infected through contact with sick hamsters. If one is immunocompromised, they can experience flu-like symptoms and serious complications such as an inflamed brain and spinal cord, which could lead to death. Severe congenital disabilities or miscarriages may occur for women infected during pregnancy.
Always wear disposable gloves when handling sick hamsters or cleaning their cages to avoid infection. Also, caution should be exercised when handling anything that may have contact with an infected rodent’s urine.
Based on severity, treatment may include hospitalization and anti-inflammatory drugs.
These are notable hamster diseases that can be passed to humans. It’s advisable to be vigilant and be on the lookout for any symptoms. To prevent infections and transmissions, keep your hamsters’ cages clean and ensure their food and water are not contaminated. Avoid contact with wild rodents and birds and be quick to get rid of mice infestation.