There are many hamster diseases that can be passed to humans, and some are a result of contact with hamster urine and/or poop.
While hamsters are gentle and lovely little creatures easily prone to stress and other health issues, they can also pass infections to humans if you’re not careful.
The big question, then, is this: is hamster urine harmful to humans? If it is, what infections can it cause and how can you protect yourself and your family?
Below we highlight two main infections caused by hamster urine, symptoms of the infections, and prevention tips.
Leptospirosis is an infection caused by leptospira, a bacteria found in the urine of infected pocket pets such as rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rabbits.
Infections happen through direct contact with contaminated urine or contact with contaminated soil and water. The bacteria can survive in soil and water for months.
Symptoms of leptospirosis in humans include high fever, headaches, muscle aches, jaundice, vomiting, chills, red eyes, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and rash.
Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, liver failure, respiratory distress, meningitis, and even death if untreated.
The infection is treatable, usually with antibiotics such as penicillin or doxycycline. Patients with severe symptoms will need intravenous antibiotics.
Leptospirosis prevention tips
Follow the following tips to prevent leptospirosis infection:
- Keep all your pets vaccinated – it’s the most effective measure
- Keep rodents like mice and rats out of your yard and house
- Avoid unnecessary contact with pet rodents such as hamsters
- Avoid contact with hamster urine, feces, or bedding
- Thoroughly wash your hands after touching your hamster or her bedding
- Do not swim or wade in water that might be contaminated with animal urine
- Wear protective clothing or footwear if your job exposes you to contaminated water or soil
Point to note: Domestic animals such as pigs, dogs, and cattle can also carry the leptospira bacteria and pass them in their urine.
2. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM)
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is a viral infection caused by the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). It is an infection of the brain or the membranes around the brain or spinal cord.
The LCM virus is carried by pet rodents such as hamsters and mice. Infections to humans happen through contact with contaminated urine, feces, or saliva or by inhaling dried airborne particles infected with the virus.
Most pet rodents become infected through contact with wild house mice that infest stores or homes. Once infected, a pregnant hamster can pass it to her fetuses in the womb, which means the infection can spread faster once she gives birth.
Although the LCM virus does not usually make hamsters sick, some hamsters can show signs of infection such as losing weight, convulsions, and decreased reproduction in females. Veterinary tests will reveal an enlarged spleen, liver, kidneys, or lymph nodes if the hamster is infected.
According to the CDC, infected hamsters should be euthanized because there is no effective treatment. The hamster’s living quarters should also be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized to prevent the spread of the virus.
Initial stage signs of lymphocytic choriomeningitis in humans include fever, headaches, cough, nausea and vomiting, malaise, anorexia, muscle aches, joint pain, and chest pain. Infected children may not show any of these symptoms.
After the initial stage signs go away, signs associated with meningitis or encephalitis may show up, including a stiff neck, confusion, and drowsiness.
There is no antiviral treatment known to effectively treat LCMV infection. In most cases, patients will need supportive care and hospitalization in severe cases.
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis prevention tips
Follow the following tips to prevent lymphocytic choriomeningitis infection:
- Avoid contact with hamsters and rid your house of mice
- Avoid contact with hamster cages or bedding
- Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with a hamster
- Keep hamster cages clean and free of soiled bedding
- Wear protective gloves when cleaning hamster cages
- Clean hamster cages outside or in a well-ventilated area
Point to note: Pregnant women are most at risk from LCMV infection, which can cause birth defects and intellectual disabilities in unborn babies.
Hamster urine is harmful to humans and can cause leptospirosis, which is a bacterial infection, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis, a viral infection. Avoid contact with hamsters and other pet rodents to prevent infections.