Federal and state health officials are investigating an outbreak of the dangerous Seoul virus, which has sickened at least eight people after they came into contact with infected pet rats.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control deployed two epidemiologists over the weekend and is working with the Illinois and Wisconsin Departments of Health to respond to the virus, the agency said. The Illinois Department of Health is looking for people who either purchased or were exposed to any infected rats, a spokeswoman said today, noting that it is also looking to find out where the infected rats where purchased from.
The Seoul virus is part of the Hantavirus family and can cause fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash. In rare cases it can cause kidney disease, according to the CDC.
Officials first discovered the outbreak when a home-breeder of pet rats was hospitalized last December with fever, headache and other Seoul virus symptoms in Wisconsin. Blood tests revealed the patient was suffering from the rare virus and during the investigation a close family member, who also worked with pet rats, was found to have the virus as well, according to the CDC.
The patients ultimately recovered from the virus.
Investigators then looked the rat breeders that supplied the rats to the first patient. They found six of those rat breeders also tested positive for the virus. The CDC epidemiologists are now searching to see if any other customers who bought pet rats might be ill and to ensure any infected rats are not sold.
"These efforts will help determine how the two individuals in Wisconsin were initially exposed to Seoul virus and allow public health officials to take actions to prevent future spread of the virus," the CDC said in a statement.
The virus is carried by wild Norway rats throughout the globe and several outbreaks of the virus have been reported in wild rats in the U.S. This is the first time the outbreak has started in pet rats, according to the CDC. The virus was named Seoul virus after it was first reported in the South Korean capital.
The virus cannot be transmitted from person-to-person, but it can be transmitted from an infected rat to a person via bodily fluids or a bite.