Cute guinea pigs or Salmonella factories

In December 2017, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported two human Salmonella Enteritidis infections in persons with exposure to pet guinea pigs. The guinea pigs had been purchased from two separate pet stores, belonging to a single chain, and supplied by a common distributor located in California. Clinical isolates were indistinguishable by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), suggesting the infections were related. This PFGE pattern was previously seen in a 2010 multistate outbreak linked to contact with pet guinea pigs (1). An investigation was initiated to determine the number of patients affected and to identify the source of human illnesses.

A case was defined as Salmonella Enteritidis infection with a clinical isolate having an identical PFGE pattern to those from the Colorado isolates and closely related to a guinea pig isolate by whole genome sequencing (WGS), and with onset of clinical signs on or after January 1, 2015. State health departments were asked to review recent Salmonella Enteritidis illness records for patient exposure to guinea pigs. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories was queried for isolates from guinea pigs that matched the outbreak strain. All isolates underwent WGS using high-quality single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis. An isolate from the 2010 outbreak was sequenced for comparison. Guinea pig purchase invoices were used to trace guinea pigs with an epidemiologic link to human illness back to the distributor of origin.

Nine cases in humans were identified from eight states, including two cases in Colorado and one each in Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Vermont, and Virginia. Five of eight patients reported exposure to guinea pigs. Onset dates ranged from July 15, 2015, to December 15, 2017. The median patient age was 12 years (range = 1–70 years). Five patients were female. One patient was hospitalized, and no deaths were reported. Six isolates submitted to veterinary diagnostic laboratories from ill guinea pigs and one isolate from a patient’s guinea pig were sequenced and found to be closely related to the outbreak strain. Including the 2010 isolate tested for comparison, all isolates were within 38 SNPs by WGS.

Traceback information was available for four guinea pigs purchased from two large pet store chains (Figure). The two distributors supplying guinea pigs to pet stores during this outbreak received guinea pigs from multiple wholesalers; however, a single common wholesaler was mentioned by both. This wholesaler also supplied guinea pigs that were associated with cases during the 2010 outbreak.

Following the 2010 outbreak, recommendations including environmental testing were made to the wholesaler regarding Salmonella prevention; however, the actions were not implemented. Failure to implement recommended prevention measures might have contributed to recurrence of the outbreak. To enhance compliance with recommendations made in this outbreak, CDC developed a document containing prevention measures aimed at reducing the prevalence of Salmonella in guinea pig colonies intended for use in the pet industry. Content was also posted on the CDC website to increase consumer awareness of risk for Salmonella infection linked to pet guinea pigs. Recommendations to pet owners during this outbreak focused on proper hand hygiene. Recommendations to distributors and wholesalers included routine monitoring of guinea pigs for Salmonella through diagnostic testing, recordkeeping to aid in traceback, and evaluating husbandry and environmental sanitation practices of guinea pig breeders to reduce the prevalence of Salmonella and other zoonotic diseases of concern to the pet industry (2).

1Epidemic Intelligence Service, CDC; 2Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC; 3Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; 4Vermont Department of Health; 5National Veterinary Services Laboratories, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ames, Iowa; 6CAITTA, Inc., Herndon, Virginia.


Bartholomew ML, Heffernan RT, Wright JG, et al. Multistate outbreak of Salmonella entericaserotype enteritidis infection associated with pet guinea pigs. Vector Borne Zoonotic Dis 2014;14:414–21. CrossRef PubMed

CDC. Multistate outbreak of Salmonella Enteritidis infections linked to pet guinea pigs.

Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2018.

Trypanosomiasis in Peruvian guinea pigs

After I posted about a man BBQing a guinea pig in a New York City park, an astute reader sent me a message saying The Last Supper by Zapata, in the Cuzco Cathedral shows the platter in front of Jesus holding a very large roasted guinea pig regarded as a delicacy and highly regarded for their taste.

guinea-pigThey are also apparently a vehicle for trypanosomiasis.

Guinea pigs have been a reliable snack in parts of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia for generations. Called cuyes in Spanish, the animals are reportedly easier to raise and breed than chickens, and are eaten en-masse during key holidays.

Chagas disease, American trypanosomiasis, is caused by the protozoan parasite _Trypanosoma cruzi_ (_T. cruzi_).

According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, seasonal feasts may be “bottlenecking” domestic populations of the tasty rodents, causing them to become the ideal middlemen for ensuring that most kissing bugs in a region are carrying_T. cruzi_.

At 9:30 am? Man roasting guinea pig in NYC park

One of the best things about Brisbane is the parks.

They’re everywhere, because the river tends to have a 100-year flood every 10 years.

guinea.pig.bbqThere’s free grills, and it’s normal to just take the cooler and cook a meal at the park.

Maybe they have the same thing in New York City.

A man roasting a guinea pig in Prospect Park on Saturday morning got grilled by police after a 911 caller assumed he was an animal abuser.

Officers responded to an emergency call about someone mistreating a squirrel in the park, police said. But the suspected abuse turned out to be lunch in the making.

The man, who told DNAinfo New York he was from Ecuador, was roasting the squirrel-sized animal on a 4-foot wooden skewer over a barbecue grill near the Ninth Street entrance to the park about 9:30 a.m. The man said the animal was a guinea pig.

It’s legal to grill meat as long as it’s in one of the park’s designated barbecue areas, which was the case in this instance, an NYPD spokesman said. Police did not take any action against the man.

10 sickened with Salmonella in pet guinea pigs, 2010

Salmonella causes about one million illnesses annually in the United States. Although most infections result from foodborne exposures, animal contact is an important mode of transmission. We investigated a case of Salmonella enterica serotype Enteritidis (SE) sternal osteomyelitis in a previously healthy child who cared for two recently deceased guinea pigs (GPs).

UnknownA case was defined as SE pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) XbaI pattern JEGX01.0021, BlnI pattern JEGA26.0002 (outbreak strain) infection occurring during 2010 in a patient who reported GP exposure. To locate outbreak strain isolates, PulseNet and the US Department of Agriculture National Veterinary Service Laboratories (NVSL) databases were queried. Outbreak strain isolates underwent multilocus variable-number tandem repeat analysis (MLVA).

Traceback and environmental investigations were conducted at homes, stores, and breeder or broker facilities. We detected 10 cases among residents of eight states and four NVSL GP outbreak strain isolates. One patient was hospitalized; none died. The median patient age was 9.5 (range, 1–61) years. Among 10 patients, two purchased GPs at independent stores, and three purchased GPs at different national retail chain (chain A) store locations; three were chain A employees and two reported GP exposures of unknown characterization. MLVA revealed four related patterns.

Tracebacks identified four distributors and 92 sources supplying GPs to chain A, including one breeder potentially supplying GPs to all case-associated chain A stores. All environmental samples were Salmonella culture-negative. A definitive SE-contaminated environmental source was not identified. Because GPs can harbor Salmonella, consumers and pet industry personnel should be educated regarding risks.

 Bartholomew, M. L., Heffernan, R. T., Wright, J. G., Klos, R. F., Monson, T., Khan, S., … & Davis, J. P.

Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. June 2014, 14(6): 414-421

81 sick; pig-to-guinea pig likely source of Salmonella outbreak at Ecuadorian festival in Minnesota

Roasted pork that was purchased from a Minneapolis market and resold at a street festival was the “likely initial source” of a salmonella outbreak that sickened 80 people in August, a Minnesota Department of Agriculture investigation concluded.

The food poisoning incident has already put the street festival organizer, New York Plaza Produce, out of business and prompted the city to fine the company $1,000 for violations that included the illegal cuy.guinea.pig_-300x225slaughter of guinea pigs for food. Now, state records obtained by the Star Tribune describe how the salmonella was traced to three whole roasted pigs that New York Plaza Produce owner Nieves Riera bought from Shuang Hur BBQ on Nicollet Avenue.

An Agriculture Department investigator determined the pork probably had low levels of salmonella when Riera bought it, but the salmonella likely grew and spread through cross-contamination. The state sent New York Plaza Produce a “notice of warning” earlier this month, a typical penalty for a first violation.

Attorneys for Riera say the market should be held responsible for selling the tainted pig. Khan Huang, owner of Shuang Hur BBQ, said the pork was not intended for resale.

Carrie Rigdon, one of the investigators in the case, said meat purchased at a retail market should not be resold.

“The fact that there was further preparation and serving at the festival, and that it was a multi-hour process, it’s likely that any contamination just multiplied” and cross-contaminated rice, beans and guinea pig meat, Rigdon said.

The investigation revealed that Riera purchased two frozen guinea pigs from a Minneapolis store and a dozen guinea pigs on Aug. 8 from Gary Ash in Cedar, Minn. Ash told investigators that Riera purchases 10 to 12 guinea pigs every two or three months. Tests of the feces in the enclosures where the guinea pigs were held tested negative for salmonella, the report said.

After obtaining the animals, Riera “cut the necks of the guinea pigs, drained the blood, removed the fur with hot water and then washed the guinea pigs with cold water,” the report said.

81 sick with Salmonella; illegal guinea pig slaughter at Minn. fair

Leading up to any food festival or state fair, there are lots of allegedly comforting messages about how things are thoroughly inspected and food safety is a top priority.

Doesn’t always work out that way.

In Minneapolis, at least 81 people were sickened with Salmonella after eating food at an Ecuadorian festival on Aug. 11, 2013.

Now, the Star Tribune reports the owner of New York Plaza Produce, which was linked to the outbreak, obtained guinea pigs cuy.guinea.pigfrom an unlicensed supplier and “slaughtered live guinea pigs in the back warewashing area of the meat market,” according to a Minneapolis inspection report.

Nieves Riera was issued a $1,000 citation on Oct. 1 for five violations, discovered in an inspection of the market four days after the festival. There were three “critical” violations, one pertaining to cooking food at an unlicensed facility and two others related to the handling and purchasing of the guinea pigs. 

“Nieves Riera obtained guinea pigs from an unlicensed supplier. The guinea pigs were sold at the Ecuadorian Festival,” the compliance officer noted in the inspection report. “Cooked pork was purchased from a Minneapolis Meat Market. The pork was resold at the Ecuadorian festival. The source of the pork is not an approved wholesaler.”

According to the report, Riera stated that she slaughtered the live guinea pigs in the back area of the meat market. “This is not a slaughterhouse and live animals are not allowed on the premises,” the report says.

Bad day at the fair: cronut burgers linked to 21 sick in Toronto, guinea pig meat linked to 81 sick in Minn

The Canadian National Exhibition has shut down a food stand that sells the “cronut burger” and called in health inspectors after a number of patrons fell ill Tuesday night.

Paramedics assessed 12 patients who experienced gastrointestinal problems, including vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain, at the CNE on Tuesday night, said Emergency 034_guinea_pigMedical Services spokesman Jamie Rodgers.

Five people were taken to hospital.

Some of the patients were taken to Mount Sinai Hospital. They said they had eaten the cronut burger, the CNE’s much-hyped croissant-donut-cheeseburger hybrid, confirmed hospital spokeswoman Leslie O’Leary.

Jim Chan, Toronto Public Health’s manager of food safety, confirmed that Epic Burgers and Waffles, the vendor that makes the cronut burger, is under investigation.

Two TPH inspectors arrived around 10 a.m. on Wednesday and took food samples. One inspector used a thermometer on two burgers after an employee put them on the grill.

Chan said the samples will go to a lab, and that results would take 48 to 72 hours.

If they pass the inspection, all the remaining food on site will be removed and disposed of, at which point TPH would have no objection to the establishment reopening, he said.

In Minneapolis, dozens of people, including children, fell ill from suspected salmonella poisoning after eating guinea pig meat and other dishes from a vendor at an Ecuadorian festival Aug. 11.

At least 81 people went to Hennepin County Medical Center and Minneapolis Children’s Hospital with severe gastrointestinal symptoms after eating food served by one of the cronut.burgerfestival’s vendors. The Minnesota Department of Health said numerous ill individuals have tested positive for salmonella.

Bill Belknap, spokesman for Hennepin County Public Health, said some of those who fell ill ate a traditional Ecuadorian dish that contained guinea pig meat, but others who didn’t eat that dish also got sick. All of those who got sick were treated and released.

Update: There are now 34 sick linked to the cronut thingies at the CNE.