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Rabbits, Rodents and Pocket PetsRabbit

Wild rodents (chipmunks, squirrels, mice, rats, muskrats) and rabbits can be found throughout Ohio and are well-adapted to living in urban, suburban and rural environments.  In addition, many types of rodents have become popular "pocket" pets (hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs) along with domestic rabbits and hedgehogs.  These animals can harbor diseases that can make people sick.  Wild rodents also serve as the reservoir for many vector-borne diseases (diseases spread by ticks and mosquitoes) such as babesiosis, La Crosse virus disease, Lyme disease, Powassan virus and a number of rickettsial diseases including Rocky Mountain spotted fever.


Domestic rabbit-, rodent- and hedgehog-related diseases of concern in Ohio include:

Animal bites: rabbits, rodents and pocket pets

Although not considered high-risk for transmitting rabies, bites from domestic rabbits, rodents and pocket pets can still become infected.  If you have been bitten by a domestic rabbit, rodent or pocket pet, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the need for antimicrobial treatment and report the bite to your local health department.

Dermatophytosis (ringworm)

Dermatophytosis, also known as ringworm, is caused by several species of fungi.  Trichophyton mentagrophytes is the most important species found in rodents and rabbits.  T. mentagrophytes causes scaly white lesions around the head of mice and rabbits, although some animals may be inapparent carriers without signs of disease.  People can develop dermatophytosis after contact with infected rodents or rabbits.  The disease in humans starts as a small bump in the skin, the hair becomes brittle and the lesion spreads peripherally, leaving scaly bald patches.  Treatment is with topical antimycotics.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira interrogans bacteria.  It can infect people and a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including rodents.  Leptospira is shed in the urine of infected animals.  Transmission usually occurs through exposure to water or soil that has been contaminated with Leptospira bacteria, although transmission can also occur through direct contact with urine from an animal shedding the bacteria.

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virusGuinea Pig

The primary reservoir for lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) is the common house mouse.  However, hamsters and guinea pigs can become infected through contact with mice and can then spread the infection to people.  Symptoms of LCMV in people can range from mild flu-like symptoms to severe meningitis.  Pregnant women are at most risk from LCMV infection, which can cause birth defects in the unborn baby.

MonkeypoxPrairie Dog

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease related to smallpox that occurs mostly in central and western Africa.  It can cause disease in people and non-human primates, rodents and rabbits.  Wild rodents found in central and western Africa are the primary reservoir for monkeypox.  In 2003, there was an outbreak of monkeypox reported among several people in the United States.  Most of these people got sick after having contact with pet prairie dogs that were sick with monkeypox.  The prairie dogs had been housed with Gambian pouched rats from Africa.  The rats were carrying monkey pox and infected the prairie dogs.  This was the first outbreak of monkeypox in the United States.  People can get monkeypox from an animal with monkeypox if they are bitten or if they touch the animal’s blood, body fluids or its rash.  The disease also can spread from person-to-person through large respiratory droplets during long periods of face-to-face contact or by touching body fluids of a sick person or objects such as bedding or clothing contaminated with the virus.  There is no specific treatment for monkeypox.

Rat-bite feverRat

Rat-bite fever is a bacterial disease.  The bacteria are carried by rats and are part of the normal flora of their mouth and nose.  People can get infected through bites or scratches by rats.  Up to 10 percent of rat bites may result in rat-bite fever.  Other animals such as mice, gerbils, squirrels, cats and dogs can also become infected and may or may not get sick with rat-bite fever, but they can still spread it.  Rat-bite fever is thought to be rare in the United States.  People who handle rats as part of their work or children who live in rat-infested areas are at higher risk for this disease.

SalmonellosisHedgehog

Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella bacteria and causes diarrhea, vomiting and other gastrointestinal symptoms.  Pocket pets, particularly hedgehogs, have been shown to be an important source of infection for humans.  These animals carry Salmonella bacteria in their intestines and shed them in their feces.  People become infected when they eat food or drink milk or water that is contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.  Children under 5 years of age and those with a weakened immune system are at increased risk for serious disease.


Wild rabbit- and rodent-related diseases of concern in Ohio include:

Hantavirus

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a severe illness caused by exposure to the droppings or urine of mice that carry the virus.  Humans are usually exposed when the virus becomes airborne and is inhaled.  It is important to take extra precautions when cleaning up an enclosed space such as a shed, cabin or trailer where mice have nested or rodent droppings are present.  Wear respiratory protection and saturate the droppings with a disinfectant before removing.  Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mouse droppings.  There has never been a case of hantavirus reported in Ohio, but the deer mice and white-footed mice that carry the virus can be found throughout the state, and human cases have been reported in neighboring Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira interrogans bacteria.  It can infect people and a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including rodents.  Leptospira is shed in the urine of infected animals.  Transmission usually occurs through exposure to water or soil that has been contaminated with Leptospira bacteria, although transmission can also occur through direct contact with urine from an animal shedding the bacteria.

PlagueSquirrel

Plague is a serious bacterial infection caused Yersinia pestis.  It is usually transmitted by the bite of a flea that has fed on an infected wild animal, such as a rat, chipmunk or squirrel.  It usually causes large sores and abscesses in the lymph nodes under the arms and legs, although it can also cause signs of pneumonia.  Dogs, and especially cats, can also become infected and can spread the disease to their human companions.  Plague has not been reported in Ohio, and most cases in the Unites States occur in the southwestern and western states.  Plague is treatable with antibiotics.

Rat-bite fever

Rat-bite fever is a bacterial disease.  The bacteria are carried by rats and are part of the normal flora of their mouth and nose.  People can get infected through bites or scratches by rats.  Up to 10 percent of rat bites may result in rat-bite fever.  Other animals such as mice, gerbils, squirrels, cats and dogs can also become infected and may or may not get sick with rat-bite fever, but they can still spread it.  Rat-bite fever is thought to be rare in the United States.  People who handle rats as part of their work or children who live in rat-infested areas are at higher risk for this disease.

TularemiaRabbit

Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by Francisella tularensis.  It is carried by rabbits and rodents, especially aquatic rodents such as beavers and muskrats.  People can become infected in a number of ways.  Tularemia can be spread by tick bites, inhalation of contaminated dust, direct contact with the bacteria in the environment or by eating contaminated food or water.  Symptoms vary by the route of infection and range from ulcerated skin lesions to swollen lymph nodes to pneumonia.  Tularemia can be treated with antibiotics.  To reduce your risk of contracting tularemia when hiking, camping or working outdoors, use insect repellents containing 20 to 30 percent DEET, wear long pants, long sleeves and long socks to keep ticks and deer flies off your skin, remove attached ticks promptly with fine-tipped tweezers and don’t drink untreated surface water.  When mowing or landscaping, don’t mow over sick or dead animals and consider using dust masks to reduce your risk of inhaling the bacteria.  If you hunt, trap or skin animals, use gloves when handling animals, especially rabbits, muskrats, prairie dogs and other rodents, and cook game meat thoroughly before eating.

Vector-borne diseases

Wild rodents are hosts for several vector-borne diseases in Ohio, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, both of which are transmitted by ticks.  Ticks become infected when they feed on infected rodents and can pass the infection on to future hosts, including humans and pets.  To reduce the risk of contracting a vector-borne disease, avoid tick bites by wearing protective clothing and using repellents when exposure to ticks is likely.


Rabbit, rodent and pocket pet resources:

 

Last updated:  03/05/2015

Zoonotic Disease Program