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Pet Rats Spreading Rare Virus To Humans, Health Experts Warn

Federal and state health officials are investigating a multi-state outbreak of the Seoul virus, which is a rare, but serious infections that has sickened at least eight individuals after coming into contact with pet rats bred at a home-based breeding facility in Wisconsin. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opened an investigation on January 18, after receiving reports about the Seoul virus from health officials in Illinois and Wisconsin. The virus has been linked to pet rats, causing flu-like symptoms and a risk of kidney disease in serious cases.

The CDC opened their investigation in conjunction with the Wisconsin and Illinois Health Departments last week, finding that all of the Seoul virus infected individuals had either worked at or purchased pet rats breed at a home-based rat-breeding facility in Wisconsin or Illinois.

Two of the CDC’s investigators sent to interview the sickened patients performed traceback investigations and found six of the individuals had come in contact with pet rats at Illinois ratteries and two others had either worked or come in direct contact with pet rats from a Wisconsin based rat-breeder.

To date, the CDC and state health officials have narrowed down the source of the infection to the home-based rat breeder facilities, however are still unaware of exactly how many people may be at risk of infection. The Illinois and Wisconsin health departments are sending warnings state wide for individuals who experience symptoms of the infection to consult with their health care providers immediately.

The Seoul virus is a rodent-borne virus stemming from the Hantavirus family and is typically carried by wild rats in Norway and Asia. The virus may cause a variety of side effects, including fever, severe headaches, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes and rashes. In some of the most severe cases in individuals with weakened immune systems, individuals experienced kidney disease, according to the CDC.

The virus does not make rats sick or cause them to show any symptoms, leaving owners and handlers to believe they are healthy, when in fact the virus can be transmitted to humans through bites or exposure to the rat’s blood, saliva or urine.

CDC investigators are continuing to assist in the state investigations and perform trace-out investigations to identify individuals who may have purchased infected rats, and identify those who may have otherwise been exposed to rats at the home-breeding facilities. The CDC officials will also be performing blood sample tests from the rats and individuals who were exposed to them at the facility.

The CDC states the Seoul virus cannot be transmitted from human to human contact, but is pursuing its investigation to identify and protect those who may have been exposed to the virus to prevent further injury.

Individuals who come in contact with rodents should always practice healthy habits and wash their hands thoroughly and avoid situations where they could be bitten or scratched by the animals.

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