The state Department of Health says that of 20 hedgehog-related salmonella cases reported nationally over the past year, seven were in Washington -- and the only fatal case in the country was an elderly man in Spokane County.
The illnesses were caused by a rare but dangerous type of salmonella bacteria carried by the small pets.
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 in his 90s and passed away this month.
In the Spokane case, the Spokane Regional Health District epidemiologist is in charge of the investigation into the source of the salmonella that killed the local man. The health district did confirm the hedgehog was purchased in Spokane.
Church says hedgehogs are like a lot of other little animals, such as frogs, turtles and chicks, that can carry salmonella without appearing ill. He says it's important to wash your hands after handling them and to always wash their cages and other items outside, to avoid spreading bacteria in the house.
Salmonellosis symptoms can include severe diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, chills, abdominal discomfort, and occasionally vomiting; symptoms may appear one to three days after exposure. Infections can last from several days to months. The illness can be treated, though most people recover on their own, without medications.
Before this year, the Department of Health had one reported case of Salmonella related to hedgehogs in 2005.