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Pet Rats Might Have Caused Outbreak

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The recent Seoul virus outbreaks in Illinois and Wisconsin have been traced back to pet rats. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the news.

The virus has infected eight patients in an ongoing investigation. They are now “the first human cases we’ve seen in the United States associated with pet rats,” according to Dr. Jennifer McQuiston, the deputy division director for CDC’s division of high consequent pathogens and pathology. Previous outbreaks in the US were caused by wild rats, CNN reports.

McQuiston said, “There was an outbreak reported in Europe previously associated with pet rats, so it’s not the first time this has been associated with pets worldwide.”

The first patient in this outbreak was from Wisconsin. The patients checked himself into a hospital with flu-like symptoms, said Stephanie Smiley, director of the bureau of communicable disease with Wisconsin Department of Health Services. It turned out the patient was a rat breeder, and the doctor had a “hunch” to test for hantavirus.

In December, Wisconsin health officials identified a positive hantavirus test result. They sent two samples to the CDC – one from the patient and another from a family member who also worked with rodents.

The CDC confirmed Seoul virus in both patients.

Hantavirus is related to Seoul virus, but is considered a different infection. It is not usually seen in the USA, McQuiston said.

This is typically associated with a milder illness than we think about with the classic hantavirus we talk about in the US, but it can be, in rare cases, associated with some more severe symptoms, such as renal disease.

Symptoms of Seoul virus include fever, chills, nausea, abdominal pain and pink-eye infection. In rare cases, a simple infection can lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, which can be fatal.

The symptoms often develop one to two weeks after contact, but can take as long as eight weeks.

The initial patients have recovered, but a follow-up investigation revealed six more cases among Illinois rat breeders, according to Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Health officials said that more people may be identified as the investigation progresses.

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