An outbreak of a flu-like virus in Illinois and Wisconsin has been linked to two rat breeders in Illinois, the Illinois Department of Public Health said.
Six Illinois residents have tested positive for Seoul virus, a type of hantavirus that may cause flu-like symptoms and, in severe cases, kidney disease. All of those residents had direct contact with rats that came from two different rodent breeders or “ratteries.”
Two additional people in Wisconsin were infected with the virus after purchasing rats from the same two Illinois ratteries, IDPH officials said.
“Seoul virus is not known to be transmitted from person to person. Therefore, the general public is at extremely low risk,” said IDPH Director Dr. Nirav D. 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.”
Symptoms of Seoul virus include fever, headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, and rash. Only brown or Norway rats carry the virus, and it cannot be transmitted between other animals. Not all of the people infected with the virus will experience symptoms of the illness, the IDPH said. The virus can also result in renal failure in some patients.
Illinois public health officials are working closely with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local health departments to investigate the origin of the Seoul virus infections, coordinate testing, and prevent further spread of the illness. Investigators have been working with the affected rat breeding operations to identify people who may have been exposed and to follow up on additional illnesses.
“If you are concerned about a recent rat purchase, make sure to follow good pet hygiene practices. Contact your local health department or health care provider if you recently purchased or handled rats from an Illinois rattery and are experiencing symptoms of Seoul virus,” the IDPH said.
As with other diseases carried by rodents, Seoul virus is transmitted to people from direct contact with rat urine or feces, contaminated materials like bedding, and possibly by airborne particulates of rat feces, urine, or saliva. It can also be transmitted through a bite from an infected rat.