Utah County resident suffers rare hantavirus infection

Posted at 12:32 PM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-14 20:53:09-05

PROVO, Utah — The Utah County Health Department reports a resident of the county has been infected with a rare type of hantavirus called "Seoul virus."

“This wasn’t just your average pet owner," said Steve Mickelson, Utah County Health Department Director of Nurses. "This is a person who no longer breeds pets, but has in the past.”

Seoul virus is carried by rats, and the Centers for Disease Control recently identified pet rats as the source of a multi-state outbreak in 15 states, UCHD said in a news release issued Tuesday.

Seoul virus symptoms in humans include fever, intense headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, nausea, flushing of the face, rash and inflammation and redness of the eyes, according to UCHD. Symptoms usually begin within one to two weeks of exposure, but, in rare cases, may take up to eight weeks to develop.

Most people infected with Seoul virus won't have symptoms, UCHD said, and others will have only mild symptoms. In rare cases, a Seoul virus infection can lead to a type of renal (kidney) disease.

The CDC and UCHD are investigating this and other recent Seoul virus infections related to a home-based rat breeding facility in Wisconsin. Two people who operated that facility were infected and hospitalized in December. Those two people, the CDC said, had purchased rats from animal suppliers in Wisconsin and Illinois. Six other people who tested positive for Seoul virus infection were linked to two ratteries in Illinois.

“Pet stores bring them in from all over," Mickelson said. However, not all pet stores buy pet rats from breeders. Some shop owners prefer breeding their own pet rats for safety purposes. However, most pet shops do buy feeding rats from breeders. Feeding rats are used as food for other animals, usually reptiles.

Further investigation by the CDC, along with state and local health departments, revealed infected rats may have been distributed or received in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

“Individuals with rats as pets are encouraged to follow health and cleaning precautions. We are working with the CDC and UDOH to protect the
health of Utah County residents," said UCHD Director Ralph Clegg in the news release.

The UCHD offered the following tips for avoiding becoming ill with Seoul virus and other diseases carried by rodents:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling pets or areas where pets
    have been.
  • Keep small pets and their cages out of kitchens or other areas where food is served.
  • Pet cages, bedding, toys, food or water containers should be cleaned away from areas
    where food is served or people may bathe.
  • Use gloves and a face mask for cleaning.
  • Avoid creating dust from fecal materials by wetting down bedding and disinfecting it.
  • Do not sweep or vacuum up rodent urine, droppings, or nests as this creates airborne
  • Cover cuts and scratches before handling your pet.
  • Don’t keep small pets in a child’s bedroom, especially children younger than five years.
  • Don’t snuggle or kiss small pets, touch your mouth after handling small pets, or eat or
    drink around them.