Eight people in Illinois and Wisconsin who worked at rat-breeding facilities have been infected with a virus not typically found in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Six cases were discovered at an Illinois rat breeder after investigators learned that two patients in Wisconsin had worked with rodents from the facility. The Seoul virus is a member of the hantavirus family of rodent-borne diseases, according to the CDC.
Symptoms of the illness include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, red eyes or rash. In rare cases, infection can also lead to acute renal disease, the CDC said. Most people infected with Seoul virus recover.
Seoul virus is carried by Norway rats, found around the world. People can become infected if they come in contact with an infected rat’s blood, saliva or urine, or from being bitten by an infected rat, according to the CDC.
CDC officials are working with the Illinois and Wisconsin departments of health to investigate the Seoul virus outbreak – the first known outbreak associated with pet rats in the country.
The human outbreak was discovered when a home-based rodent breeder in Wisconsin was hospitalized in December with symptoms including a headache and fever, according to the CDC. Subsequent blood tests confirmed that the infection was the Seoul virus. A close relative of the first patient – who also worked with rodents – tested positive for the virus as well. Both recovered, the CDC said.
A follow-up investigation at several breeders that supplied the first patient with rats revealed six additional cases.
“CDC has deployed two epidemiologists to work with local and state health authorities to determine if any customers who bought rats have become ill,” the organization said. “Human and animal health officials are working together to make sure infected rats are not distributed further.”
While the virus is not known to have previously affected humans in the U.S., outbreaks have been reported in wild rats.
“The virus is not spread between people and cannot be transmitted to or from other types of pets,” the CDc said. “Rats infected with Seoul virus typically do not appear sick.”
Anyone in Illinois or Wisconsin who is concerned that they may have purchased or come into contact with rats from the affected breeders are advised to contact their state or local health departments. Anyone who recently purchased a rat in the affected areas and is experiencing potential symptoms of the virus should contact their health care provider immediately, the CDC said.
Image via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/public domain