Department of Health Services: 2 cases of rare viral illness linked to ‘ratteries’ reported in Wisconsin

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MILWAUKEE — Officials with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services are reporting two cases of a rare viral illness linked to ratteries.

The illness is caused by the Seoul virus, a very rare type of hantavirus carried by Norway rats, officials said in a statement released to FOX6 News.

There are six cases in Illinois. Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health said those impacted had direct exposure to rats at two different Illinois ratteries, which are facilities where rats are bred.

In Wisconsin, the two people impacted had direct exposure with rats at a home-based rattery in northeastern Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin rattery owner purchased rats from the two Illinois ratteries.

“Because rats from ratteries are sold to and swapped among individuals, we are working with local health departments and the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) to determine if there are additional cases,” said Karen McKeown, state health officer in the statement. “We are responding aggressively to protect and promote the health and safety of the people of Wisconsin.”

According to the Wisconsin DHS, a two-member CDC team of epidemiologists arrived in Wisconsin to support response efforts, and assist with trace-out investigations of clients who purchased rats from, or were otherwise exposed to, the home breeding facility, and will participate in trace-back investigation of facilities where the breeder recently purchased rats.

None of the identified ratteries are currently selling rats.

DHS officials said hantaviruses are a family of related viruses found worldwide, typically carried by rodents. Rats with hantavirus will appear healthy.

People can get hantavirus infections from having contact with, or being in close proximity to infected rodents, or their urine and droppings. It can also be transmitted through a bite from an infected rat.

This virus cannot be spread from person to person.

Symptoms vary from person to person and may include fever, chills, nausea, intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, flushed face, or rash. In severe cases, infection can lead to acute renal disease.

Some people who become infected with the Seoul virus may not experience symptoms.

In Wisconsin, one of the infected persons had to be hospitalized, but both have since recovered.

Five of the six Illinois cases showed no signs of illness.

Individuals who have had contact with rats recently obtained from a rat breeder and who experience these symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately, DHS officials said.

To avoid becoming ill with diseases carried by rodents, DHS officials are offering these tips:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after handling your pets or areas where your pets have been.
  • Keep your small pets and their cages out of kitchens or other areas where food is served.
  • Pet cages, bedding, toys, feed 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 particles.
  • 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.

CLICK HERE for more information on staying safe when caring for rats.