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8 February, 2018 00:00 00 AM
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Dangers of virus from pet rat

Dangers of virus from pet rat

Your pet rat could make you very sick by transmitting a virus that's newly emerged in North America, US health officials warn.

Seoul virus is a rat-borne hantavirus that typically causes symptoms that resemble the flu -- fever, headache, muscle pain. In rare cases infection can lead to hospitalisation with hemorrhagic fever and kidney failure.

A recent outbreak of Seoul virus among rats -- the first ever in the United States or Canada -- resulted in the spread of the virus across 11 states, said researcher Dr. Barbara Knust. She's a veterinarian and epidemiologist with the Viral Special Pathogens Branch of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the end, the CDC investigators tracked the outbreak to 31 different US locations, most of them either home-based rat-breeding operations or homes with pet rats, according to a Feb. 2 report in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Seoul virus is spread to humans through the urine or feces of rats, either by direct contact with the waste or by breathing in tiny particles stirred up when cleaning their nests, Knust said. The virus also can be spread by bites.

Although the outbreak appears to have died down for now, the CDC is urging rat owners to be careful when handling and cleaning up after their pets.

"We have not diagnosed any more cases of Seoul virus in people since April," Knust said. "However, it's very possible there still could be pet rats out there infected with Seoul virus."

Pet rats have been around for a while, but a new "fancy rat" fad has renewed interest in the animals, Knust said.

"The fancy rat is kind of a new twist on things," Knust explained. "People are getting into different unique color combinations. They're so interested in rats, they're willing to buy rats from overseas. You can indeed buy fancy rats from most pet stores."

Doctors have known about hantaviruses since the Korean War, Knust said, and specifically about the Seoul virus since the early 1980s.

But up to now, the Seoul virus has never found a foothold in North America. Wild rats on this continent have been known to harbor the virus, but transmission to humans through pet rats has never occurred and transmission from wild rats has been very rare.

Researchers believe the virus mostly likely entered the North American pet rat population through an importation of infected rats into either the United States or Canada, Knust said.

"We did DNA sequencing and found that indeed we had a sequence that nearly matched with a type of Seoul virus that had been found previously in pet rats in the UK," Knust said.

The first sign of trouble came in December 2016, when a home-based pet rat breeder in Wisconsin landed in the hospital with flu-like symptoms, the CDC reported. The person had approximately 100 Norway rats in the home. The Norway rat is the natural reservoir of Seoul virus, carrying the virus without any signs of illness, Knust said. The rat is believed to be the only rodent that can carry Seoul virus.

A family member developed similar symptoms a month later, but didn't require hospitalisation. Tests confirmed both people had recently been infected with Seoul virus.

Public health officials then undertook some detective work, tracking where the first patient had bought and sold rats to see if the virus had spread. At least six US locations with confirmed infections reported exchanging rats back and forth with Canadian breeding operations.

HealthDay

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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