The Illinois Department of Public Health reported on January 19 that a small number of people have been infected with the Seoul virus, a type of hantavirus, after being exposed to infected rats at two rat breeding facilities (ratteries).
Seoul virus is a zoonotic disease, and can be spread to people from infected rats through bites; direct contact; exposure to aerosolized urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents; or after exposure to dust from their nests. The virus is not known to be transmitted from person to person. Infected rats don’t appear ill, but infection in people can result in intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, blurred vision and rash.
If you are a veterinarian and you receive calls from concerned rat owners, please refer them to their physician and/or local health department. If presented with a rat that may be associated with a human Seoul virus infection, ensure you are using proper precautions to prevent zoonotic infection while handling the rat. We have some materials to help you educate clients on zoonotic disease prevention, including a Zoonotic Diseases and Pets FAQ and a Preventing Zoonotic Diseases brochure (also available in Spanish: Prevención de Enfermedades Zoonóticas).
If you recently purchased a rat from an affected facility, you will be contacted by state authorities using the contact information you provided at the time of purchase. If you recently purchased a rat and you are experiencing the above-described symptoms, contact your physician and your local department of health.
Rodents can make great pets, but they can carry other diseases as well (such as Salmonella). Fortunately, good hygiene and sanitation can prevent most infections and allow you to enjoy your pet rodent’s companionship without illness.
For in-depth information on hantaviruses, including the Seoul virus, visit the hantavirus pages on the Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health website, or the CDC’s hantavirus page.