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Public Health Bulletin: Information for Canadians regarding Seoul virus

March 1, 2017

Why you need to know about Seoul virus?

The Government of Canada is closely monitoring an outbreak of Seoul virus associated with pet rats in the United States, and is working with provincial partners to investigate a link to pet rats in Canada.

Three (3) people in Ontario who were in contact with pet rats have tested positive for Seoul virus. Some rats in Ontario have also tested positive for Seoul virus.

Who is most at risk?

Seoul virus is not spread from person to person. The risk of getting infected with Seoul virus in Canada is considered low. However, anyone who comes into contact with rats carrying Seoul virus is at risk. Even healthy people can get infected and become seriously ill.

People can become infected with this virus after coming in contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rats. When fresh rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials are stirred up (for example, when cleaning cages, 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, droppings, saliva or other contaminated materials containing the virus get directly into a cut or other broken skin, or into your eyes, nose, or mouth. In addition, people who work with or care for live rodents can get Seoul virus through bites from infected animals.

The health risk to Canadians is considered low. However, people who come in contact with rats should educate themselves about potential diseases they could be exposed to and take precautions.

Symptoms

People infected with Seoul virus may have the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Back and/or abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Rash
  • Inflammation or redness of the eyes
  • Flushing of the face

Symptoms of the illness caused by Seoul virus usually begin within 1 to 2 weeks after contact with infectious material. In rare cases, it may take up to 8 weeks to develop symptoms.

Seoul virus infection in humans is generally mild and less severe than some other types of hantavirus infections. Some people do not develop symptoms at all, or experience only very mild symptoms. However, in rare cases, infection can also lead to a type of acute renal disease called Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS), which might include low blood pressure, acute shock, and acute kidney failure. In cases of severe disease, complete recovery can take weeks or months. An estimated 1-2% of people with HFRS may die.

Anyone who has been in contact with rats or their droppings, urine, saliva, contaminated nesting materials or other materials, and is showing these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider immediately.

What you should do to protect your health?

Rats do not show signs of disease when they are infected with Seoul virus.

Owners of pet rats should follow the guidelines for healthy pet handling when handling and caring for their pets. 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. Owners of rat breeding facilities in Canada that have received rats from infected facilities will be offered testing to determine whether they and/or their rats have been exposed to Seoul virus. This testing will be completed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Rats infected with Seoul virus can continue to shed virus throughout their lives, and therefore pose an ongoing risk to humans and other uninfected rats they contact. There is no way to treat infected rats. For facilities that plan to sell rats and have rats infected with Seoul virus, depopulation and thorough cleaning and disinfection may be the most straightforward option to ensure the virus does not spread and put others at risk. Quarantine or isolation of rats with extensive testing may also be an option for some rat breeding facilities or owners, but this approach will take longer to implement and may be expensive.

Wild rodents can be a source of many diseases, including Seoul virus and other hantavirus-type infections; therefore, it is always advisable to avoid contact with wild rodents and their droppings. Rodents near human communities should be controlled, and they should be excluded from homes. You should avoid contact with rodent urine, droppings, saliva and nesting materials. It is important to know how to safely clean up after rodents.

What the Government of Canada is doing?

Canada is closely monitoring the ongoing investigation of an outbreak of Seoul virus infection in the United States, which has infected several people in multiple states. All cases are associated with exposure to pet rats at rat breeding facilities.

Through a trace-back investigation in the United States, a link to Ontario rat breeding facilities has been identified.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with provincial partners, local public health authorities and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to investigate this link and to make Seoul virus testing available for persons that might have been infected.

At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is testing rats from some of the Canadian rat breeding facilities with links to rat breeding facilities in the United States. The Agency will provide rat testing for animals that originate from the rat breeding facilities under investigation and for animals that might be provided in the future as part of the on-going investigation.

The Government of Canada will continue to update Canadians as new information becomes available, or if there is an increased risk to public health related to this virus.

Additional information

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