Hedgehog Alert! Prickly pets infecting people in Wash. state

NEW YORK - Add those cute little hedgehogs to the list of pets that can make you sick. And Washington state has more cases of hedgehog infection than anywhere else in the nation.

In the past year, 20 people across the U.S. were infected by a rare but dangerous form of salmonella bacteria, and one person died. Investigators say the illnesses were linked to contact with hedgehogs kept as pets.

Of those 20 hedgehog-related salmonella cases reported nationally over the past year, seven were in Washington state - and the only fatal case in the country was an elderly man in Spokane County.

State Health Department spokesman Tim Church says there were two cases in Pierce County, and lone cases in King, Clark, Thurston, Whitman and Spokane counties. The victim in Spokane was 92 years old and passed away this month.

The other cases were in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Oregon.

Dr. Sharon Hopkins with King County Health says the CDC is trying to determine if the disease originated with the same breeder or in one area of the country. Hopkins says you should never bath a hedgehog in your kitchen sink or bathtub.

"It is the fecal matter than can wash off and be picked up by someone using that sink," she said.

Also, clean pet cages and other equipment outside and always scrub your hands with soap and water after handling a hedgehog.

Health officials on Thursday say such cases seem to be increasing.

Other pets that carry the salmonella bug are frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, lizards, chicks and ducklings.