Conference call summary: Seoul virus and pet rats

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Summary of Feb. 3, 2017 call between CDPHE and Colorado rattery owners


Purpose of call: To discuss Seoul virus in pet rats in Colorado

Representatives from CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment):

  • Leah Colton, Zoonoses Program
  • Alexis Burakoff, Communicable Diseases Branch
  • Jennifer House, State Public Health Veterinarian
  • Natalie Marzec, Zoonoses Program
  • Lisa Miller, Communicable Diseases Branch Chief

CDPHE contact number: (303) 692-2700

  • Ask for someone who can help with Seoul virus and pet rats
  • For general information regarding Seoul virus please call CO-HELP at ​(303) 389-1687 or 1 (877) 462-2911

1. Purpose of the call


a. ​To introduce CDPHE staff involved with the Seoul virus response in Colorado

b. To explain what activities are ongoing in relation to Seoul virus in Colorado


2. ​ CDPHE policies on privacy in relation to Seoul virus


a. Humans: CDPHE cannot discuss any person’s health. They will not divulge information regarding who is being tested or their results.
b. Rats: CDPHE will not be releasing information about rat testing results at this time.
c. CDPHE will contact all individuals who are suspected to have been exposed to Seoul virus infected rats. As of Feb. 3, 2017, all individuals with possible exposures have already been contacted.

3. What is Seoul virus?


a. Seoul virus is a type of hantavirus.
b. Some hantaviruses cause severe illness in people including a condition called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome which has a high mortality rate. Seoul virus is NOT one of those hantaviruses.
c. Most people who are infected with Seoul virus will have mild flu-like symptoms or no symptoms at all. A small proportion of the people who have symptoms may have a more serious illness that affects their kidneys. It is impossible to predict who will have the more severe illness and who will not.
d. Rats (specifically the Norway rat) are natural hosts of Seoul virus. They do not get sick if they get infected but they stay infected for the rest of their lives and will shed the virus intermittently in their urine, feces, and saliva.
e. Since rats don’t get sick there is no way someone could know that they have infected rats without testing. A Rattery that is found to have infected rats has not done anything wrong.
f. Once a person has been infected with Seoul virus they are protected against it for life. Humans cannot spread Seoul virus to other humans or to animals the way rats do.
g. The reason public health agencies are concerned about Seoul virus infections in pet rats is because of the risk of more severe illness in some people. We cannot predict who might get
more severe illness, so we have to act to protect everyone.

4. How are ratteries being identified?


a. In December 2016, a rat owner in Wisconsin became ill and was diagnosed with Seoul virus. A family member who had had contact with the same rats also tested positive for the virus.
b. This rat owner provided the Wisconsin state health department with information about where their rats had come from and where their rats had been sent in a specific time period that was determined to be important based on the life cycle of the virus.
c. The
ratteries that sent or received rats to or from this first rattery were investigated, which is how two ratteries in Illinois were confirmed to have rats and people infected with Seoul virus. These two Illinois ratteries provided further information about the movement of their rats, which has triggered testing in other ratteries. (This process is called trace-back and trace-forward.)
d. As more
ratteries are determined to have infected rats or humans, other ratteries
may be contacted about possible exposures.

5. Testing


a. If you have a rat that is connected to a rattery with confirmed Seoul virus infection, it can be tested free of charge.

i. Testing is done at CDC and can be done on a euthanized rat or a blood sample.
ii. Contact CDPHE for assistance arranging testing.

b. CDPHE does not recommend testing rats unless there has been a possible exposure to Seoul virus. But if you would like to have your rats tested for your own knowledge there may be options in the future:

i. CDC is currently working with IDEXX (a commercial veterinary laboratory) to validate their hantavirus test. The IDEXX test was developed to test for hantaviruses other than Seoul virus, so the CDC is making sure that it is effective at detecting Seoul virus. There should be more information about the status of this process in the next couple of weeks.
ii. Charles River Laboratory is another commercial lab that offers hantavirus testing in animals. At this time the CDC is focusing on validating the IDEXX test. They have not released any plans to validate the Charles River test.

6. What happens if you are told that your rats might have been exposed and testing reveals that one of your rats is infected?


a. The CDC recommends that if a rat or a human tests positive for Seoul virus, that the entire population of rats be euthanized (depopulation).
b. An alternative is to quarantine your rats (no new rats are added and none leave, and human contact is limited) for the remainder of their lives.
c. The CDC has tried to determine other options for special breeding lineages or heart
rats and have come up with a third option to test and cull:

i. All rats will be isolated and tested. Those that test positive are culled.
ii. The remaining (negative) rats stay in isolation and are retested 4 weeks later. All positives are culled.
iii. The remaining rats stay in isolation and are retested in another 4 weeks. At this
point all rats should test negative and isolation is no longer necessary as long as no new positive rats

7. How can CDPHE help you?

a. Provide consultation for questions related to Seoul virus in pet rats.
b. Assist with arranging free testing for rats or people who have potential exposure to Seoul virus – those who ‘qualify’ for testing.
c. Provide assistance in the form of personnel if your
rattery is confirmed to be affected. Please note that CDPHE cannot provide financial assistance, and cannot reimburse the cost of lost of rats.
d. CDPHE may also be able to make recommendations for the test and cull strategy, like how many rats need to be tested. CDPHE cannot offer financial assistance for testing and culling, however.