BACKGROUND: An estimated 1.4 million salmonella infections occur annually in the United States. The majority of these infections are foodborne, but many are acquired by contact with animals. In August 2004, isolates of Salmonella enterica serotype Typhimurium, which were indistinguishable from one another by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE), were obtained from eight hamsters from a Minnesota pet distributor. We conducted an investigation to determine whether human cases of salmonella could be linked to this rodent-borne strain. METHODS: To identify cases of human infection with S. enterica serotype Typhimurium potentially related to pet rodents, we reviewed salmonella PFGE patterns submitted to the National Molecular Subtyping Network for Foodborne Disease Surveillance. Patients with isolates matching the hamster strain were interviewed about exposure to pet rodents. Implicated rodents were traced to pet stores, distributors, and breeders. RESULTS: We identified matching S. enterica serotype Typhimurium isolates from 28 patients in whom the onset of illness occurred between December 2003 and September 2004. Of 22 patients (or in the case of children, their parents) interviewed, 13 patients (59%) in 10 states reported exposure to pet hamsters, mice, or rats, and 2 (9%) had secondary infections. The median age of the 15 patients with primary or secondary rodent exposure was 16 years, and 6 patients (40%) were hospitalized. Thirteen associated pet stores supplied by seven distributors were identified in 10 states. No single source of the rodents was identified. The outbreak strain of S. enterica serotype Typhimurium was cultured from a patient's pet mouse and from seven hamsters from pet stores. Closely related S. enterica serotype Typhimurium isolates were cultured from rodent cages and reusable transport containers at a pet distributor. Human, rodent, and environmental isolates were resistant to ampicillin, chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfisoxazole, and tetracycline. CONCLUSIONS: Pet rodents probably are an underrecognized source of human salmonella infection.