A woman whose husband died of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection is suing a pet store. The suit alleges that a hamster purchased at the store was the source of infection of a person, who subsequently suffered a fatal stroke (unrelated to the infection). The hamster-owner’s liver was donated to the Plaintiff’s husband, who died of LCMV infection a month later. Two other organ recipients died and the hamster was eventually identified as the source.

LCMV is a virus that can cause encephalitis and/or meningitis (inflammation of the brain and associated tissues). Human cases are typically associated with rodent contact; both pets and wild rodents. Infected rodents can appear to be healthy. People can be infected through bites or direct contact with rodents, their droppings, urine, bedding or other contaminated materials. Pet-associated infections are rare, and are of greatest risk in people with compromised immune systems, such as transplant recipients, and pregnant women.

Some key points from this report and LCMV in general are:
–    All types of pets, even small ones, can transmit infection.
–    Sometimes exposure to infectious agents is unavoidable. You’re not going to turn down a donated organ on the rare chance that the donor had an obscure and undiagnosed disease.
–    People that are at higher risk for infectious diseases, such as transplant patients, should consult with their physician and veterinarian before obtaining a new pet.
–    Appropriate controls should be used to reduce contact of people and pet rodents with wild rodents
–    Wash your hands after touching a rodent or its environment

More information about hamsters and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus is available in the Resources area.