The Seoul Hantavirus
Edited Update: We are virus free! Our tests came back from Idexx and we were negative for both Hantavirus & Sendai! I worked with Forestville Animal Hospital http://www.forestvilleanimalhospital.com/ They were very helpful! They do treat rats and if anyone is looking for a vet I do recommend them.
**************************************************** This is long but important information!
So I wanted to share some information on the Seoul Hantavirus that is going around. There is a lot of misinformation out there so I wanted to make sure everyone knew what was going on.
First ignore all of the news reporting on this. The media likes to exploit things and they make crap up. They do not care about the truth. All of the reports I have read have been wrong and scare tactics against rats. Do not be fooled by this. I know it sucks because our non rat loving family/friends see this and freak out. I would suggest giving them the real info and laughing off the media as if they ever tell the truth.
I am (as of writing this) still temporarily closed and will be until the investigation is over. They keep adding new states and until we know how wide spread it is, I feel it is important and responsible to keep things closed. Even if I am not infected I could not in good faith let any rats be returned to me because I couldn’t for sure say they were not exposed. So I do not feel it is safe to sell. I am also closed as a united sign with my fellow breeders who are losing their rats and having to be in the middle of this. This is a heart breaking time and more than ever we need to be a united force as a community supporting one another.
I do not feel I have been touched by this or that I have infected rats. I have not brought in new rats for quite a while past the expected time frame of this (I hope) and the rats I have brought did not come from (as we know now) infected ratteries. But I have had my rats tested and am expecting the results back soon! I just got my invoice from the company so I am hoping the vet will contact me with the results Monday.
Is keeping pet rats dangerous?
The very first thing I want to say is that while this is something serious and we should pay attention & be aware of it. This is not really a big scary concern. Out of everyone who tested positive by far most did not show any symptoms at all. The ones who did had flu like symptoms. No one has died from this. If you do have a compromised immune system it could put you at greater risk and there is a very small chance of developing Hemorrhagic fever.
From the CDC’s website: People that become infected with this virus often exhibit relatively mild or no disease but some will develop a form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) with death in approximately 1-2% of cases (1 to 2 persons in 100 people).
The seoul virus is not common in pet rats. This is something carried among wild rats. That is a huge difference. All wild animals carry the risk of disease.
And yes even our pets can be infected by viruses at times and put us at risk. It is rare but possible. But rats are not the only pet at risk. Pet dogs & cats have just as much of a chance at putting us at risk.
Most only affect the animals. Think of parvo which is easily spread and can be deadly for dogs and cats. My sister actually once bought a puppy that was infected with parvo & died shortly after. This actually happens far too often sadly. As well as things like feline leukemia or kennel cough.
Then we have illnesses that can be spread from pet to people, such as the recent Seoul Hantavirus. Yet it is very rare and mostly found in wild animals. You could compare it to rabies in that we really do not expect our puppies & kitties to carry it but it is possible for them to catch it from a wild animal. You may be thinking well we get our dogs/cats vaccinations to prevent it. And yes we do, but rabies can be quite deadly. And there is more likely chance for people to catch it.
There are also things like cat scratch fever or toxoplasmosis from cats.
People still have pet cats and dogs without concern. In the US we are rarely at risk of danger from our pets. But yes be smart. Practice safe hygiene. Don’t handle wild animals or let your pets do so. If you are bit or scratched clean it well and make sure it is healing. If you develop flu like symptoms go to the doctor.
My point is keeping pet rats is not dangerous.
Ok so what is the Seoul Hantavirus?
The virus is spread by rats to people. People can not infect other people. Some other animals can become infected but can not be carriers as well. In most cases it is not fatal & most people do not even show any signs or symptoms of having it. But it can in rare cases (1-2%) cause Hemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal. If you become infected you will carry the antibodies for life and can not get infected again- like chicken pox. This does mean though that if you have caught the virus from wild rats or other rats in your lifetime you will test positive. They have said that they can tell if you recently caught it or if it is older. But there is some fear that if you test positive even if it was not recently it can mean your rats are at risk to be euthanized. People who work where wild rats may be like out in nature, barns, etc... may have it.
There is a vaccine in Asia, but as of now there is none in the US or Europe approved to treat our strains.
Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal.
There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms.
Late symptoms: lungs fill with fluid, shortness of breath
Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a "...tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face" as the lungs fill with fluid.
Rats infected do not become sick. They show no symptoms at all. They are merely carriers.
It can be spread through saliva, urine, feces and particles can be kicked up into the air as well.
Sadly there is not much information on how it is in rats. There has been some debate on when rats shed the virus/how long they can infect others.
How did this begin?
Right now there is NO known source. The CDC has not found the source as they stated no “rat zero” at this time. I was on the conference call with the CDC when they stated this (Feb 10th I believe). There are TONS of rumors being spread on the source and they are all BS rumors.
There is NO reason to point fingers or play blame games. What matters now is how far this has spread.
It is insanely disrespectful of these people to spread rumors at a time when such heartbreak is going on. It is just hurtful and these people suck. None of the breeders involved should have anything negative against them because of this. It was not bad husbandry or lack of quarantine or any anything likely on their part. They bought rats infected.
Note: Some of the content I will share below is VERY upsetting and heartbreaking. It will deal with rat deaths.
The CDC got involved after a breeder in Wisconsin was sick and had to go to the hospital. She has since recovered. It is important to note that while she was the first to get sick, that does not mean this began with her. She has been amazing at sharing information and this has been a very difficult time for her.
She was tested at the hospital and confirmed that she was positive for Seoul Hantavirus. From there they traced her rats that she sold/bought to other ratteries and other people tested positive as well. At the time of writing this 13 people have been confirmed tested positive, with only 1-2 being sick or showing real symptoms. No one has died. Everyone has recovered.
The CDC is running this but there is no state of alert or anything over this. Mostly it is being handled by individual states health departments.
At the time of writing this:
(from the CDC website) Number of states reporting laboratory-confirmed Seoul virus positive results for humans or rats: 8: CO, IL, MN, PA, SC, TN, UT, WI
States with ratteries currently under investigation: 16: AL, CO, GA, IL, IN, IA, LA, MI, MN, MO, ND, PA, SC, TN, UT, WI
New states are being added every few days it seems.
At this time the CDC is only looking at the breeders who have been infected and those who they sold to or bought from. Including pet owners who have bought rats from an infected rattery.
This has touched many many breeders. Every breeder who has tested positive themselves has had all of their rats euthanized.
I saw the pictures of the Health Department all wearing masks/suits coming into their homes and euthanizing ALL of their rats right there.
I cried after seeing the pics. I went and kissed my rats and I couldn't imagine losing them. I really want to stress how heartbreaking this is. My heart goes out to these breeders. I can not even imagine what they went through. They lost their beloved pets, members of their family and on top of it all of their lines, their work & effort, their heart and soul that they poured into generations of rats…. All gone.
Many other breeders lost countless rats that tested positive or rats that died during testing because they didn’t wake up from being put under.
On top of it there is a major push from the CDC to depopulate, as in euthanize all of our rats even if they test negative.
These breeders are being told that if a rat tests negative they have to go on lock down and test every 6 weeks or 6 months (different states are asking different things it seems). For a breeder who has many many rats this is nearly impossible to afford. It can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars each time for some. It is important to note that breeding is expensive on its own. We do not make a profit, this is a hobby for us.
I think everyone should really send good thoughts and prayers to these breeders who have lost so much or those still dealing with this. And for all those rats now gone. It is something that not everyone can recover from.
What this means for most of us?
Really I would suggest waiting to buy any rats right now until after the investigation is over. We have no idea how far it has spread. While responsible breeders are mostly temporarily closed not everyone is, BYBs are not, many feeder breeders are not. And this is a real concern of this spreading among them. We just do not know at this time how wide spread it is.
Even if you are not worried about getting sick, it potentially puts your life and your rats at risk. The government can get involved in your life and be a huge hassle. One breeder had her rats test positive and they were all euthanized AFTER that happened the health department showed up at her house with police, pulled her kid out of school, and made her husband come home from work to all be tested. No one wants to have their life messed with like this.
And if you get rats that are infected or from an infected source it runs the risk of having them euthanized. Your other rats as well.
Do not think just because our state has not been touched yet we are safe, new states keep being added.
Do not panic or freak out, but be smart, keep yourself informed.
If you do decide to take in new rats during this time put them in quarantine. Wear gloves/mask and do not use the same things between cages. Different rooms then your other rats for sure.
Also know your rights. The Health department can not just come into your house and take your rats without a warrant. But I will say so far it seems those who are not cooperating are making things tougher for others and the Health Departments have been a bit threatening… don’t work with us & you will lose all of your rats no matter what, we will make you pay for testing, etc….
I do not want them all to sound bad, they are just doing their job. And most people are saying they have been nice and sad sympathetic about this.
It is not an easy situation for anyone.
But I will say this is affecting many breeders. Many breeders have lost all or many of their rats. And it is not over. We are worried about losing rats even if they are negative. It is a scary time for breeders in the rat community.
Please be smart, please be supportive of breeders during this time.
For myself… as soon as I get my test results back I will share them. I will be staying closed until they have finished their investigation and we know if it is safe again. I will likely be continuing to test yearly & testing new rats in the future during quarantine.
Also everyone should be aware that there is also a Sendai outbreak in NY state. This is very
dangerous for rats. http://ratguide.com/health/viruses/sendai_virus_sv.php
More info on Seoul Hantavirus: