JEFFERSON CITY • Health officials say Missouri has not had any cases or suspected cases of a virus tied to rat breeding facilities in the state.
But the state Department of Health and Senior Services officials is nonetheless involved in an investigation with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and at least eight other states into the spread of the Seoul virus, a type of hantavirus carried predominantly by the brown or Norway rat.
“DHSS is working with Illinois, the CDC and the Missouri Department of Agriculture to determine involvement of any Missouri-based ratteries or pet stores,” said DHSS spokesman Ryan Hobart in an email to the Post-Dispatch.
In January, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported six cases of Seoul virus in people who had direct exposure to rats in two Illinois ratteries. Ratteries are facilities where rats are bred.
The agency said a rattery in Wisconsin bought rats from the two Illinois ratteries and two Wisconsin residents have also tested positive for Seoul virus. Results of laboratory testing of rats at the facilities are pending.
Illinois public health officials have contacted Illinois ratteries to identify people who may have been exposed and to follow up on any additional potential illnesses. The ratteries are situated in northwestERN Illinois and east-central Illinois. Neither rattery is currently selling rats.
“Seoul virus is not known to be transmitted from person to person. Therefore, the general public is at extremely low risk,” said Illinois public health chief Nirav Shah.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we want to let the public know in the event they have recently purchased rats from an affected facility and become ill.”
Indiana state health officials also are trying to track down residents who bought rats from an Illinois breeder who is part of the investigation.
According to an Illinois public health notice, only a few cases of Seoul virus have been reported in the U.S. Symptoms may include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash. In severe cases, infection can also lead to acute renal disease.
However, not all people infected with the virus experience symptoms. Five of the six Illinois cases showed no signs of illness.
The department added that Seoul virus is transmitted to people from direct contact with rat urine or feces, contaminated materials such as bedding, and perhaps by aerosolized feces, urine or saliva. It can also be transmitted through a bite from an infected rat.
As a precaution, health officials said people should not snuggle or kiss small pets, touch your mouth after handling small pets, or eat or drink around them.