Ontario investigating after Seoul virus, spread by rats, infects three people

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Yesterday, Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced that three people in Ontario have contacted the Seoul virus, which is spread by rats.

Officials say all three people had prolonged contact with rats.

Seoul virus is a type of hantavirus. It can be transmitted from rats to people through bite wounds or exposure to urine, feces, saliva or contaminated bedding.

“No serious health outcomes have been reported for the cases,” stated Williams. “The health risk to Ontarians is considered low and Seoul virus is not spread from person to person.”

People who come in contact with rats and materials contaminated with urine, droppings or saliva should educate themselves about potential diseases they could be in contact with, including Seoul virus, and take the appropriate precautions, said Williams.

The ministry and its partners are investigating the source of the illnesses, including any possible links to a multi-state investigation in the United States involving ratteries.

As of February 24th, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a similar Seoul virus outbreak associated with rat exposure that involves ratteries located in 15 states.

Laboratory testing of rats from some Ontario ratteries have identified positive results for Seoul virus, said Williams. Further testing of rats is ongoing.

Officials say a person that is infected with Seoul virus may not develop symptoms or will only develop very mild symptoms. However, in some instances, symptoms may include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or rash.

The majority of people infected recover with no long-term health effects. However, in rare cases, infection can lead to a type of acute renal disease called Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS), which might include low blood pressure, shock, and acute kidney failure.

Rats infected with Seoul virus don’t show symptoms of disease.

“People who are concerned that their pet rat may be infected should consult with their veterinarian who can offer advice and possible testing for Seoul virus infection through a commercial laboratory,” said Williams.

Rats infected with Seoul virus can continue to spread the virus throughout their lives, and therefore pose an ongoing risk to humans and other rats. There is no way to treat them for their infection, Williams said.

“The ministry will continue to work collaboratively with public health units, PHO, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, PHAC, and key stakeholders to investigate and mitigate the risk from Seoul virus infections in the province,” stated Williams.

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