(CNSNews.com) - Beware the little hedgehog, he's likely to be prickly. So touch him at your peril: He just might make you sickly.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in the past year -- from December 2011 to December 2012 -- at least 20 people have been sickened with human salmonella typhimurium infections linked to hedgehogs purchased from multiple breeders in different states.
Four people required hospital treatment, and one person died. Almost half of the victims are children age 10 or younger.
"It is very important to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water right after touching hedgehogs or anything in the area where they live and roam," the CDC says on its website. "Adults should supervise hand washing for young children."
CDC counts one person infected in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, and Oregon; three infected people each in Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio; and seven in Washington State.
Illnesses that occurred after January 4, 2013 might not be reported yet due to the time it takes between when a person becomes ill and when the illness is reported.
Salmonella germs are shed in animal droppings and can easily contaminate their bodies and anything in areas where these animals live and roam.
Most persons infected with Salmonella bacteria develop diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days, and most persons recover without treatment. However, older adults, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to develop severe illness from Salmonella infection.
Hedgehogs are considered "exotic" pets. They are nocturnal, defend themselves with sharp quills, and they do bite.