Arenavirus Infection in Hamsters

By PetMD Editorial on Jul. 9, 2010

The arenavirus usually infects wild mice and other rodents, but it does rarely affect hamsters. Fortunately, it does not usually make them sick and eventually resolves on its own. Sick hamsters, however, can pass the virus onto humans, causing flu-like symptoms and inflammation of the bran and the spinal cord. Due to its highly contagious nature, hamsters with arenavirus should be handled with utmost caution.


Although many hamsters with arenavirus have no adverse reactions, some do. The following are good indicators of an arenavirus infection:

  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Nervous system symptoms (e.g., convulsions, spasms)
  • Swollen lymph nodes (sometimes can be felt by palpation)
  • Females may have decreased reproductive capacity or even abort during pregnancy


Arenavirus, otherwise known as Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, is spread by contact with an infected rodent's urine or saliva, or by tiny droplets spread when sick rodents sneeze or cough. Moreover, an infected pregnant hamster can pass it to her fetuses in the womb.


Arenavirus can be detected via laboratory tests and blood samples. Otherwise, the diagnosis is confirmed by doing a post-mortem examination.


Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment for arenavirus infection. A veterinarian will recommend that hamsters with arenavirus be euthanized. Its living quarters should then be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized.

Living and Management

To protect yourself and your family, wear disposable gloves when cleaning an infected hamster's cage. Be extra cautious while handling bedding material or other objects inside the cage, which are likely to be soiled with, infected urine. After you have finished cleaning the cage and all of its contents, wash your hands and clothing and dispose of potentially contaminated materials in sealed plastic bags.


Keeping your animal cages clean and disinfected regularly will help to minimize incidences of arena virus infection among hamsters.

Featured Image: Vasilevskaia

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