COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and El Paso County Public Health have identified pet rats as the source of the outbreak of the Seoul Virus, an offshoot of the Hantavirus family.
Symptoms of Seoul virus resemble mild to moderate flu. They include fever, headache, chills, nausea, rash, inflammation or redness of the eyes, and normally begin within two weeks after contact with infectious material.
"In most cases the effects will be mild or the individual doesn't even know they've become infected or ill," said Dr. Chris Nevin-Woods, El Paso County Health Medical Director.
According to Public Health, people can become infected with Seoul virus after coming in contact with urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents. When fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are disturbed (for example, when vacuuming or sweeping), tiny particles containing the virus get into the air. You may become infected when you breathe in these contaminated materials. You may also become infected when the urine or these other materials containing the virus get directly into a cut, broken skin, or into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Rat breeders like Catherine Grant of Colorado Springs are aware of the CDC's warning and are taking it seriously.
"I know a couple other local breeders who have been contacted [by the CDC]. There's been a couple that have had to shut down as well," said Grant. "
El Paso County Health confirmed the recent closure of two ratteries in El Paso County which were believed to be linked to an Illinois rat breeding facility where the CDC believes the virus began.
Public Health recommends the following precautions should be taken to avoid contracting this virus:
· 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 bedding materials by wetting down with disinfectant.
· Do not sweep or vacuum up rodent urine, droppings, or nests - 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.