Don't give your child a hamster or exotic pet because they carry deadly germs, experts warnBy Mail Foreign Service
Last updated at 3:15 PM on 6th October 2008
Parents have been warned not to buy their young children hamsters or other exotic animals as pets for fear they carry dangerous and potentially deadly germs.
That's according to a leading U.S. pediatricians' group in a report about dangers from exotic animals.
Exotic pets may also be more prone than cats and dogs to bite, scratch or claw - putting children younger than five particularly at risk, the report says.
Young children are vulnerable to germs such as salmonella because their immune systems are still developing - plus they often put their hands in their mouths.
The report appears in the October edition of the group's medical journal, Pediatrics.
"Many parents clearly don't understand the risks from various infections" these animals often carry, said Dr. Larry Pickering, the report's lead author and an infectious disease specialist at the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
For example, about 11 per cent of salmonella illnesses in children are thought to stem from contact with lizards, turtles and other reptiles, Pickering said.
Hamsters and baby chicks also can carry this germ, which can cause severe diarrhoea, fever and stomach cramps.
Young children can get it by kissing or touching the animals and then putting their hands in their mouths, he said.
The child was hospitalised for four weeks but has recovered, said Bocchini, head of the academy's infectious diseases committee and pediatrics chairman at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
Hedgehogs can be dangerous because their quills can penetrate skin and have been known to spread a bacteria germ that can cause fever, stomach pain and a rash, the report said.
But Bocchini added with supervision and precautions like hand-washing, contact between children and animals 'is a good thing'.
However, families should wait until children are older before bringing home an exotic pet, he said.
Those who already have these pets should contact their veterinarians about specific risks and possible new homes for the animals, he said.
Data cited in the study indicate that about 4million U.S. households have pet reptiles.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, all kinds of exotic pets are on the rise, although generally fewer than 2 per cent of households own them.
The veterinarian group's Mike Dutton, an exotic animal specialist, said the recommendations send an important message to parents who sometimes buy exotic pets on an impulse "then they ask questions, sometimes many months later."
But a spokesman for the International Hedgehog Association said there's no reason to single out hedgehogs or other exotic pets.
"Our recommendation is that no animal should be a pet for kids five and under," he said.