"Clinicians and public health officials should be aware that pet hamsters are a potential source of tularemia," officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in the agency's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Tularemia, a potential bioterrorist agent, is an infectious disease commonly carried by small mammals, but has not previously been associated with pet hamsters. It can cause fever, diarrhea, difficulty breathing and death if not treated.
A 3-year-old Denver boy developed tularemia after being bitten on the finger by a pet hamster that subsequently died. The boy ultimately recovered after being treated with antibiotics.
CDC officials said one possible scenario is that wild rodents infected with tularemia may have infested the pet store that sold the hamster. The rodents could have spread the disease by urinating and defecating in the hamster cages.