ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is a subset of animal lovers with pet rats. I like these gentle creatures. I’ve had their genetic cousins, gerbils, myself. What’s new with rats is that the CDC has made us aware of Seoul virus. Originally discovered in South Korea, this infectious organism is found in wild rats all over the world.
There is nothing new about the Seoul virus in urban and feral rats, but, according to a recent report, this infectious organism “was recently found in their tamed counterparts in the United States. Since December 2016, 17 people have tested positive in seven states.” The investigation spread to include 31 home-based “ratteries.” That’s right; if you breed rats, you have a rattery.
The bulletin continues. “More than a third of the home-based rat breeders had rats that tested positive,” said Barbara Knust, DVM, veterinary epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Once it gets into a colony, we know Seoul virus can spread easily.”
Affected facilities include home-based colonies where the rodents are bred for sale as well as residences with pet rats. “While infected rats show no signs of illness, they shed the virus in urine, feces and saliva and can be life-long transmitters, placing other rats and human handlers at risk. There is no treatment.”
People can become exposed by breathing in aerosolized virus particles that can be stirred up by cage cleaning or through bites or scratches from an infected rat. “It takes as long as eight weeks for symptoms to develop in humans, if they surface at all. Illness is typically mild and flulike, but can include kidney problems, bleeding, or even death in rare cases. There have been no human fatalities in the United States, although three people have been hospitalized. No evidence exists that other household pets are at risk of infection from rats.”
This is sobering news for anyone who lives with rats. To put your mind at ease you can have them blood tested for Seoul virus.
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Dr. Jeff Nichol treats behavior disorders at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Centers in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (505-792-5131). Questions on pet behavioral or physical concerns? For answers, Like my Facebook page at facebook.com/drjeffnichol or by mail to 4000 Montgomery NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109.