The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that eight people have been infected with the Seoul virus, which is a rare illness transmitted by rats.

According to the CDC, the affected people were from Wisconsin and Illinois and all of them were continuously in contact with rats. The Seoul virus is a very rare type of hantavirus, a respiratory infection spread by rodent droppings. The CDC confirmed Friday an outbreak of the virus in the U.S., since these are the first human cases of this pet-rat linked disease. There is an undergoing investigation to prevent more cases.

“Symptoms may include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash. In rare cases, the infection can also lead to acute renal disease,” said the CDC. Image credit: Rat Forum.

The first human cases of Seoul disease in America 

Seoul disease is more common in Asia, however, the latest cases confirmed in the U.S. demonstrate it can appear in other places. This virus is not transmitted between people nor can it be transmitted by other types of pets. It is transmitted solely by the wild Norway rats.

People get infected when they come in contact with body fluids —like blood, urine or saliva— of infected rats, if they breathe dust contaminated with rodent droppings or fluids, or if they are bitten by them.

“The virus is not spread between people and cannot be transmitted to or from other types of pets. Rats infected with Seoul virus typically do not appear sick,” stated the CDC.

Seoul disease is one of the hantaviruses, which were only identified until 1993. Given the fact that no one knew what the Seoul disease was, it was first called the “sin Nombre” virus, which is the Spanish for “without name”. The first case of this rat-related illness occurred in New Mexico when a young man died despite the efforts to save him.

The current outbreak started when a resident of Wisconsin visited the hospital in December with symptoms similar to those of the flu, including fever and headache. The patient had pet rats, according to Stephanie Smiley, director of the bureau of communicable disease with Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It was due to the patient’s contact with rats that the doctor decided to test him for hantavirus. Some of the patients needed heath care; however, all of them have recovered from the virus.

Which are the symptoms of Seoul Disease?

People should not worry that much about the Seoul disease, because even though there are some fatal cases, they are very rare, and generally those who get infected by the virus almost never feel the symptoms. Even in rats, it is hard to tell if they are sick. According to the CDC, the Seoul virus is one of the less harming of hantaviruses. In 2012, three campers died in Yosemite National Park over a hantavirus outbreak.

“Though Seoul virus is in the hantavirus family, it produces a milder illness than some other hantaviruses,”  added the CDC. “Most people infected with Seoul virus recover.”

The symptoms a person might show if they get in contact with an ill rat include fever, severe headache, chills, redness of the eyes, rash and back and abdominal pains.  Sometimes, it can produce renal disease.

There is no cure for this illness. However, ribavirin, a genetic antiviral drug, might be useful to prevent its symptoms, which tend to appear about one or two weeks after infection.

CDC: there could be more Seoul virus cases

The CDC said that in order to prevent more cases of this disease in the country, they are working with local health departments to test rats, ratteries’ workers and clients. Rats are usually sold in ratteries and swapped among individuals. The CDC recommended people to wash their hands after touching any rodent, even if they own them.  As well, they said people should make sure their pet-rats’ enclosures are safe and secured, so they don’t contaminate other surfaces.

After they discovered the illness in eight people, they found out six other cases among workers at two Illinois breeding facilities, as it was reported by Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health. She added these cases were confirmed by the CDC on January 18. None of the patients is at risk.

The CDC stated that they are trying to trace back to where these rats came from. As well, they are investigating where the rats might have gone, from the facilities where the Seoul virus was identified. People who have purchased rats or have been in contact with them lately should communicate with the health departments in Illinois and Wisconsin. Image credit: iStock.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention