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Health Issues

Hamsters and Mice Can Cause Illness

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is a viral infection of the brain or the membranes around the brain and spinal cord. It mostly affects young adults, though it is uncommon. It is caused by the lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) virus.

The LCM organism is carried by common house mice or pet hamsters. Humans become infected by breathing in dried particles of the animal’s urine, feces, or saliva that have become airborne or ingesting food or dust contaminated by the rodent’s urine.

The incubation time is around a week, but can take as long as 3 weeks.

Signs and Symptoms

Once infected, some children remain symptom free, but many others may have a flu-like illness with

  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain

After a few days of this initial phase of the infection, symptoms may go away, only to be followed by the appearance of additional symptoms associated with meningitis or encephalitis, including a stiff neck, drowsiness, and confusion.

When to Call Your Pediatrician

If your child has a persistent and severe flu-like illness following contact with a mouse or hamster, its cage, or its urine or feces, you should call your pediatrician for advice.

How Is the Diagnosis Made?

The infection can be diagnosed by blood tests for antibodies to the LCM virus.


Although there is no antiviral medication with proven effectiveness for this condition, some patients will need supportive care. Patients with more severe cases may need to be hospitalized.

What Is the Prognosis?

Most children with LCM infections recover completely.


To prevent this disease, keep your child from having direct contact with mice or hamsters and their feces. Cages should be cleaned regularly to prevent a buildup of dried feces, which can be blown into the air. Prevent rodent infestation, especially in areas where food is stored. If you notice rodent droppings, use a liquid disinfectant to clean the area.

Last Updated
Immunizations & Infectious Diseases: An Informed Parent's Guide (Copyright © 2006 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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