Transplant recipients’ infection traced back to the pet hamster of an organ donor.


Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed the spread of lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) from a pet hamster to four recipients of organs from a single donor.

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LCMV was not detected in the donor, but her pet hamster yielded an LCMV isolate identical to that isolated from the four recipients, confirming LCMV transmission by organ transplantation, said investigator Boris Pavlin, MD, now a preventive medicine resident at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. An investigation revealed that two hamsters and a guinea pig (3.5% of 85 rodents) from the hamster’s pet store were LCMV-positive.  In 2005, severe illness developed in the four recipients, and LCMV was identified in all four. Three of the recipients died. The investigation confirms what had been previously suspected and documents that lymphocytic choriomeningitis is a problem in immunocompromised individuals, Dr. Pavlin said.


Findings suggest that physicians should advise transplant recipients and other immunocompromised patients against owning any “pocket pets”—gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs.


“Some pets are safer than others, and so physicians need to discuss with their patients, who are medically or otherwise immunosuppressed, what pets they should have and not have,” Dr. Pavlin told Renal & Urology News. “Reptiles, for instance, may be associated with salmonella and can put these people at risk because of their immunosuppressive disease.”


Dr. Pavlin said LCMV is carried by the house mouse (Mus musculus), but not naturally carried by other rodents. Overall, LCMV probably accounts for 10%-15% of viral meningitides. It is estimated that mortality from LCMV in healthy adults is below 1%, but may be much higher in immunocompromised individuals.


The pet trade should consider measures to detect and minimize LCMV infection in commercial pet populations, Dr. Pavlin said. In addition, physicians and transplant teams in particular should educate the public about the risk of infectious transmissions from pets.


“This can also be a concern for pregnant women,” Dr. Pavlin said. “For nephrologists and urologists, I think one of the key messages is that pocket pets can be a source of illness of a

variety of types and we are seeing this more and more in recent years. Physicians who are dealing with patients who are immunocompromised may advise them that owning pocket pets is not a good idea.”


Although the four transplant recipients became ill from LCMV in 2005, it is only now that CDC investigators have confirmed and identified the exact mode of transmission. The investigators conducted chart reviews, interviewed hospital staff and the donor’s family and coworkers. In addition, they evaluated transplantation procedures, conducted an assessment of the donor’s home, trapped rodents, and did traceback testing of the commercial rodent distribution center in Ohio.

Along with field testing, the researchers conducted serology, immunohistochemistry, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction, and virus isolation from donor, recipients, and rodent tissues. Physicians may access the latest federal guidelines on pet-transmitted diseases at