Will Pregnant Women Get Sick From Hamsters?
By Doran Jones
The primary concern with any rodent and pregnancy is LCMV (Lymphocytic Choriomengingitis Virus) or Viral Meningitis.  Mice, Rats, Hamsters, and other rodents can pass this to humans and other animals.

LCMV is usually not fatal to adult humans.  In fact, most cases are so mild they go vastly unreported.  The mortality rate is about 1%. It's thought that about 2 to 10 percent of the human population have already contracted and recovered from LCMV based on serological (blood work) studies conducted in urban areas of the US.  The symptoms are very much like a cold or flu.

The first stage of the virus typically begins with fever, malaise, anorexia, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and vomiting.  Other symptoms that appear less frequently include sore throat, cough, joint pain, chest pain, testicular pain, and parotid (salivary gland) pain.  Most cases do not proceed to a second stage but a few days after the first stage passes, the victim may develop a fever, headache, and a stiff neck.  There are other more acute and sometimes fatal symptoms that can develop at the same time; these are not common.

The above are the symptoms and concerns for non-pregnant humans.  However when a woman is pregnant a whole new set of problems arise should she become infected.  LCMV is one of the few viruses that can pass the placental barrier.  A fetus that get LCMV is commonly born with severe birth defects or may even die.

Before you all panic, realize that with one or two hamsters the risk is low.  I worked at a laboratory where I handled up to 1000 animals.  We lab workers were required to wear protection whenever we were in the animals' rooms.  Both the workers and animals were tested regularly.

How do you get LCMV?  Well, there are a number of ways to get it.  The more common way is through handling an animal that passes the infection through urine to the hand of the human who then either touches his eyes or mouth.  Another way is though airborne dust that contains dried urine or feces.

To avoid problems keep your rodent area clean; bleach and disinfectants kill the virus readily.  Change bedding on a regular basis.  Wash your hands before and after handling the animals.  Don't allow wild animals access to your hamstery. If you are pregnant consult with your vet and doctor about this.  It's probably wise to avoid contact with your animals for the duration of your pregnancy.
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