Salmonella from guinea pigs!
I fully expected to see an alert like this via the “Notes from the field” briefs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however it was CBS Channel 4 in Minneapolis that broke this story. Earlier in August, 81 people were sickened with salmonellosis at an Ecuadoran Independence Day festival in Minneapolis. Public health officials have said that people were reporting severe gastroenteritis symptoms, and many of them tested positive for Salmonella in lab tests. All patients reported eating guinea pig meat served by one of the festival’s vendors.
The list of animal reservoirs that can carry Salmonella is impressively long; indeed guinea pigs are one animal that is explicitly listed by the CDC on their Salmonella page. A research article from 1966 indicated that it has historically been a sufficiently significant problem that there was initiative to create a Salmonella–free breeding colony for research purposes, and the “only registered small animal hospital” in South East Ireland indicates that salmonellosis is one of the most significant zoonotic infections from guinea pigs. Since the animals are frequently in the carrier state, the pathogen is unlikely ever to be eliminated.
However, the only previous outbreak directly attributable to guinea pigs that I’ve been able to find was published at the 2012 International Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases (abstract 286: “Outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Enteritidis Infections Associated with Pet Guinea Pigs— Multiple States, 2010”). In that outbreak, 10 patients across 8 states developed Salmonella infections with guinea pig association. Molecular analysis indicated that the patient isolates were related, however no clear chain connecting animal distributors to pet shops could be identified. The report ended with the recommendation that consumers and the pet industry should be educated about the risks due to infection from “pocket pets”. The best protections continue to be two-fold; first, always make sure to wash your hands following handling of animals, and second, make sure that you cook them to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.