Pet rats in Illinois, Wisconsin linked to spread of virus

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Eight people from Wisconsin and Illinois are confirmed to have contracted a rare virus from pet rats, confirms the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is working with Illinois and Wisconsin health services to investigate the spread of the virus.

The Seoul virus is a member of the Hantavirus family of rodent-borne viruses. People usually become infected when they come in contact with infectious body fluids (blood, saliva, urine) from infected rats or are bitten by them.

Symptoms may include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash.  In rare cases, infection can also lead to acute renal disease.

However, not all people infected with the virus experience symptoms and most people infected with Seoul virus recover, reports the CDC.

Investigation has determined that several pet rat breeders in Illinois and Wisconsin were affected by the virus. The virus cannot be spread to or from any other pets, or to other people, says the CDC.

Seoul virus is carried by wild Norway rats worldwide. Most cases in people are reported in Asia.

To prevent infections from Seoul virus and other diseases carried by rats, the CDC advises that people should:

  • Wash hands with soap and running water after touching, feeding, caring for their rodents, or after handling cages and bedding.
  • Make sure rodent enclosures are properly secured and safe, so your pet doesn’t get hurt or contaminate surfaces.
  • Clean and disinfect rodent habitats and supplies outside your home when possible. Never clean rodent habitats or their supplies in the kitchen sink, other food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.
  • Avoid bites and scratches from rodents.
  • If you are bitten by a rodent, wash the wound with warm soapy water immediately.

People in Illinois and Wisconsin who are concerned that they have purchased or come in contact with rats from the affected breeders should contact their local or state health departments. Anyone who recently purchased a rat in the affected areas and experiences Seoul virus symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately.