Rat disease outbreakThe Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is contacting people who purchased rats from a breeder in Illinois as part of an investigation of an outbreak of Seoul virus, a member of the hantavirus family that has caused human illnesses in other states. Eleven rats were purchased from the facility by six Hoosiers residing in five different households. No cases of Seoul virus have been diagnosed in any Indiana residents at this time.

The ISDH is in the process of contacting people who purchased rats from this facility and is working proactively with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to also notify healthcare providers and veterinarians about the potential for exposure. A total of three ratteries—two in Illinois and one in Wisconsin—are associated with the multistate outbreak. Only people who purchased rats from one of these three out-of-state facilities after September 1, 2016, are potentially exposed. Individuals who purchased rats at facilities located within the state of Indiana are not considered exposed at this time.

“Although Seoul virus is typically less severe than other forms of hantavirus, it can be fatal in rare instances, so we are taking all necessary steps to ensure that people who purchased rats from the affected business are aware of the potential for illness and can take appropriate measures,” said Indiana State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H.

Seoul virus cannot be transmitted from person to person.  It is typically contracted by either coming into contact with the bodily fluids of infected rats, such as blood, saliva and urine, or by being bitten by an infected rat.

Symptoms may include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash.  In rare cases, infection can also lead to acute kidney disease and can be fatal.  Symptoms usually develop within one to two weeks of exposure, but in rare cases may take up to eight weeks to develop. Some people infected with the virus will not experience any symptoms.

Individuals who are concerned about exposure to rats purchased in Illinois or Wisconsin after September 1, 2016, should call the ISDH Epidemiology Resource Center at 317-233-7125.

The following preventive measures are recommended for all rodent owners:

  • Wash your hands with soap and running water after touching, feeding, or caring for rodents or cleaning their habitats. Be sure to assist children with handwashing.
  • Be aware that pet rodents can shed germs that can contaminate surfaces in areas where they live and roam. Make sure rodent enclosures are properly secured and safe so your pet doesn’t get hurt or contaminate surfaces.
  • Clean and disinfect rodent habitats and supplies outside your home when possible. Never clean rodent habitats or their supplies in the kitchen sink, other food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.
  • Avoid bites and scratches from rodents. Be cautious with unfamiliar animals, even if they seem friendly. Take precautions when cleaning out rodent cages or areas with rodent urine or droppings.
  • Visit your veterinarian for routine evaluation and care to keep your rodents healthy and to prevent infectious diseases.

More information about the Seoul virus can be found on the CDC’s website at https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/outbreaks/seoul-virus/index.html.