Eight people, who shared the common factor of working at different rat-breeding facilities in two different U.S. states and who contracted Seoul virus, most likely contracted the virus from the rats.
Special report by Tim Sandle:
This is the outcome from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation, which was undertaken with the Illinois Department of Health and the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. The matter is of public health concern because the eight infections represented the first viral transmissions from rats designed to be sold as pets.
The first case to be reported was when a man, who bred rodents at his home in Wisconsin, was sent to hospital after reporting a fever and headache. This was in December 2016. Tests indicated that the man had a contracted the Seoul virus, which is a member of the Hantavirus family of rodent-borne viruses. Later a member of the man’s family also contracted the virus. Both people recovered, although the investigation revealed that six other people who bred rats at home were infected with the same virus type. The six worked at two separate home-based rat breeding centers.
Seoul virus does not make the rats sick, but people can become infected through exposure to infectious body fluids (blood, saliva, urine) or bites from infected rats. The virus is normally reported in Asia, the new cases in the U.S. are very rare in the west. The virus cannot be spread between people (only to people from infected rats). In severe cases the virus can lead to renal failure.
U.S. health authorities are currently working with the home-rearers to identify customers who may have purchased rats as pets, to see if the infection has spread. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that citizens in Illinois and Wisconsin who are concerned that they have purchased or come in contact with rats from the breeders should contact the state health departments.
Advice has been issued to help prevent infections like Seoul virus and other diseases carried by rats. The advice includes:
- Washing hands with soap and hot running water after touching, feeding, or caring for rodents.
- Being aware that pet rodents can shed viruses and bacteria and this can contaminate surfaces.
- Regular cleaning and disinfection of rodent habitats and supplies.
- Avoiding bites and scratches from rodents. If you are bitten, immediately rinse the wound and seek medical advice
- Visit a veterinarian with the rodent regularly, for checks.
In the longer term, a review is likely to take place regarding the breeding of rats in the U.S.