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Keywords:

  • anaphylaxis;
  • hamster;
  • pet allergy

Case 1. A 23-year-old woman with symptoms of anaphylaxis was admitted in September 1999. From October 1998, she had three dwarf hamsters as pets. The hand with which she usually handled the hamster became itchy, as did her face. On the day of admission, a hamster had bitten the third finger. After 5 min, the bitten finger became warm, red, and swollen. The swelling and redness spread to the arm, and she felt sick. After several minutes, she began to feel dizzy, and the redness spread over the entire body. On admission she required emergency treatment with intravenous aminophylline and hydrocortisone. Symptoms gradually resolved after several hours.

The reaction to common hamster epithelium was class 2 on testing with CAP-RAST (Pharmacia, Uppsala, Sweden) in December 1999.

Case 2. A 45-year-old woman was admitted because of symptoms of anaphylaxis in September 2000. Atopic bronchial asthma had been diagnosed at the age of 16 years. For the last 3 years she had two dwarf hamsters as pets. The patient had been bitten on the hands 3 times. She noticed that cough and dyspnea worsened when she cleaned the hamster cage. On the day of admission, one of the hamsters bit the thumb. After several minutes, the bitten thumb became warm, red, and swollen. Moreover, palpitations and malaise occurred. After 20 min, the patient had an asthmatic attack and took inhaled salbutamol. A few minutes later, she fainted at home. On admission, the conscience level was somnolence. She required emergency treatment with inhaled salbutamol sulfate solution and intravenous hydrocortisone. After about 1 h, anaphylactic symptoms gradually resolved.

The reaction to common hamster epithelium was negative on testing by CAP-RAST in October 2000. She stopped keeping hamsters as pets in December 2001. The reaction to specific IgE antibody against dwarf Dzungarian hamsters (Phodopus sungorus) epithelium, examined by CAP-RAST in February 2003, was class 4 (24.1 UA/ml).

Several case reports have documented the occurrence of anaphylaxis after rodent bites (1, 2), but reports on anaphylactic reactions to hamster bites are rare (3). A literature search revealed 15 case reports of hamster bites, all of which were from Japan, reflecting the increased popularity of having hamsters as pets. One case was life-threatening. Nine of 13 patients for which the presence or absence of allergic disease was stated had allergic conditions. Serum samples from 10 of 15 patients were examined for specific Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody to common hamster epithelium. The test results were positive in three patients (30.0%), including one of ours. Some patients show an immediate hypersensitivity reaction to hamster saliva on prick or scratch tests (3). Our cases of anaphylaxis secondary to hamster bites should alert emergency-room physicians that serious, potentially life-threatening complications such as anaphylaxis may be caused by hamster bites. Recently, some patients had evidence of the lack of sensitization to common hamster (Cricetus cricetus and Mesocricetus auratus), which is usually tested when allergy to hamsters is suspected (4). The reaction to specific IgE antibody against dwarf hamster epithelium, as done in patient 2, should therefore also be tested.

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