Press Release

August 9, 2005



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The Illinois departments of Public Health and Agriculture today reminded Illinoisans of the importance of washing their hands after coming into contact with pet rodents in order to prevent diseases, such as lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV).

Earlier this year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received a report of severe illness in four patients who had received organ transplants from a common donor. All four organ recipients subsequently were found to have evidence of infection with LCMV, a rodent-borne Old World arenavirus. The source of infection was likely an infected hamster in the donor’s home. Three of the four organ recipients died.

“Although most persons infected with LCMV do not exhibit symptoms and the risk for infection from pet rodents is considered low, people should be aware of the possible risks associated with this infection,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “People can minimize their risk of infection by properly washing their hands. In fact, hand washing is the single most important step for reducing the risk for disease transmission.”

The recommended way to wash hands is as follows:

  1. Wet hands with running water
  2. Place soap in palms and rub hands together to make a lather
  3. Scrub hands vigorously for 20 seconds
  4. Rinse soap off hands with running water
  5. Dry hands with a disposable towel and, if possible, use a disposable towel to turn off the water

Dr. Whitaker said that people should wash their hands after contact with all animals because animal fur, hair, skin and saliva can become contaminated with fecal organisms. Transmission can occur when persons pet, touch or are licked by animals or from fecal contamination of environmental surfaces.

The donor’s hamster was purchased from a pet store in Rhode Island, where three other LCMV-infected rodents were found. The rodents were supplied by Mid-South Distributors in Ohio. It has not been determined if any Mid-South rodents were shipped to Illinois.

IDPH is preparing posters to advise people to wash their hands after contact with pet rodents that IDOA will distribute to pet stores throughout the state. Earlier this year, the IDPH and IDOA designed five posters addressing precautions, such as washing hands, people should take when having contact with animals in public settings. These posters were distributed to county fairs and will be posted in exhibit areas at the Illinois State Fair.

“We want people to enjoy animals and the companionship they provide,” Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke said. “But, at the same time, people need to be aware of the importance of practicing good hygiene after touching any animal, whether it’s their pet or part of an exhibit at a fair.”

LCMV infection usually is either asymptomatic or causes mild self-limited illness in otherwise healthy persons. LCMV, however, can cause aseptic meningitis, but the infection is rarely fatal. Infection during pregnancy can result in transmission of the virus from mother to fetus, and infection during the first or second trimesters can lead to severe illness in the fetus.

LCMV is not normally found in pet rodents, such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs. However, pet rodents can become infected if they have contact with wild house mice in, for example, the breeding facility, pet store or home.

Animals can become ill or can be asymptomatic. Infection in humans occurs primarily through exposure to secretions or excretions of infected animals.

Human-to-human transmission of LCMV has not been reported, with the exception of transmission by organ transplantation or by an infected mother to fetus.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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