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Guinea pigs are easy-care pets, requiring little beyond basic food, water, cage cleaning and handling. Sometimes, however, guinea pigs come with diseases contracted from unclean conditions at a breeder or other specimens at the pet store. Disease also may also enter your guinea's world via food, water, other pets or handling. Only a few diseases can be passed from your guinea pig to you, but they can leave you quite ill and be devastating for infants.
Avoid catching a disease from your guinea pig by instructing the entire family in safe handling guidelines. Bacteria found on the guinea's fur will easily transfer to your hands and cross-contaminate anything you touch. Teach children not to kiss guinea pigs or put them up to their faces, not to rub their nose or eyes when handling a guinea pig and to thoroughly wash their hands as soon as the guinea pig goes back in his cage.
Guinea pigs carry toxoplasmosis, a protozoan known to infect unborn children. Infection during the second and third trimester are most common, but an infection during the first trimester is usually the most severe. The protozoan can cause miscarriage, still birth and birth defects of the eye and brain. Do not clean a guinea pig cage while pregnant if you can have someone else do it, and wear rubber gloves if you must do it yourself.
Known as LCM, lymphocytic choriomeningitis causes inflamation of brain tissue. House mice are the most common carriers of the disease, but guinea pigs can contract the disease when they come in contact with the droppings of infected mice or rats. The disease causes mental retardation, hydrocephalus and chorioretinitis in unborn children. Adults and children will experience flu-like symptoms accompanied by fever and headache. Less than 1 percent of cases are fatal.
Other Common Diseases
A guinea pig's sharp nails can scratch your skin, making it vulnerable to infection by guinea pig-borne staphylococcus aureus. While most staph infections cause redness and swelling at the infection site, immune-deficient people may contract pneumonia, sepsis or other serious bacterial infections. Guinea pigs also contract salmonella from contaminated food. Children less than 5 years old can experience life-threatening symptoms. Keep guinea's cage clean and remove uneaten food daily to prevent salmonella from developing.
- March of Dimes News Moms Need: Staying Safe
- Net Vet Veterinary Resources: Diseases of Guinea Pigs
- Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health: Toxoplasmosis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Staphylococcus Aureus in Health Care Settings
- Ryan McVay/Digital Vision/Getty Images