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Seoul Hantavirus Frequently Asked Questions

Hantaviruses are a family of related viruses found worldwide, typically carried by rodents. Rats with Seoul 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.

Seoul hantavirus cannot be spread from person to person.

People that become infected with Seoul hantavirus often exhibit relatively mild or no disease, but some will develop a form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

Death occurs in approximately 1-2% of cases.

White rats in a cage, one ready to leave by open door

Seoul hantavirus is found worldwide. It is carried and spread by rats, specifically the brown or Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) or the Black rat (Rattus rattus). The virus has been found in both domestic rats and wild rat populations around the world.

Seoul hantavirus is a member of the hantavirus family of rodent-borne viruses. People that become infected with this virus often exhibit relatively mild or no disease but some will develop a form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). Death occurs in approximately 1-2% of cases (1 to 2 persons in 100 people).

People can become infected with Seoul hantavirus after coming in contact with urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rats. When rat urine, droppings, or nesting materials are stirred up (for example, when vacuuming or sweeping), tiny particles containing the virus get into the air. This process is known as “aerosolization”. You may become infected when you breathe in these contaminated materials.

You may also become infected when 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 live rats can get Seoul hantavirus through bites from infected rats.

Seoul hantavirus is not spread from person to person.

The brown or Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) as well as the black rat (Rattus rattus) carry the Seoul hantavirus. Other animals can be carriers of the Seoul hantavirus, but they cannot transmit it to humans.

Some strains of hantaviruses can cause disease in humans. The severe disease associated with Sin Nombre virus infections is called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Most HPS infections lead to fever and body aches, progressing to severe breathing difficulties that frequently require hospitalization. Death occurs in approximately 38% of cases (or 38 of every 100 patients). In contrast, the severe disease associated with Seoul hantavirus is called hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS). Most people who get infected with Seoul hantavirus experience mild or even no symptoms. However, in the severe form of the disease, patients can exhibit bleeding and kidney involvement. Death occurs in approximately 1-2% of cases (or 1-2 of every 100 sick individuals).

The symptoms of Seoul hantavirus infection usually develop within one to two weeks after exposure, but in rare cases can take up to eight weeks to develop.

These symptoms usually begin suddenly and include:

  • Intense headaches
  • Back and abdominal pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Inflammation
  • Red eyes
  • Blurred vision
More serious symptoms may develop later including low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure.

Individuals who have had contact with rats and who experience Seoul hantavirus symptoms should contact their health care provider immediately.

Laboratory tests of blood and body tissues are used to confirm a diagnosis of Seoul hantavirus infection in patients suspected to have an infection.

Supportive care is given to human patients with Seoul hantavirus infections. The patient may be given fluids to prevent dehydration and additional oxygen to help with breathing.

Dialysis may be required in severe cases of kidney failure. Ribavirin, an antiviral drug, has been shown to reduce the illness severity and lower deaths related to Seoul hantavirus infections if used very early in the disease.

Seoul hantavirus is shed in the urine, feces, and saliva of recently infected rats. Rats can become infected with Seoul hantavirus through wounding or biting other rats and after coming in contact with the urine and feces of infected rats.

Rodent control is the main way to prevent hantavirus infections. Individuals should avoid contact with rodent urine, droppings, saliva, and nesting materials, and the safety measures described should be followed when cleaning areas where rodents are present.

Several commercial laboratories offer testing for Seoul hantavirus. Ask your veterinarian about testing options.

Pick the right pet for your family. Pet rodents are not recommended for families with children 5 years old or younger, pregnant women, or people with weakened immune systems because these groups are at greater risk for serious illness.

  • Always wash your hands immediately after touching, feeding, or caring for pet rodents or cleaning their habitats.
  • Play safely. Do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold rodents close to your face. This can startle your rodents and also increase your chances of being bitten. Bites from pet rodents can spread germs and possibly make you sick.
  • Never eat, drink, or smoke while playing with or caring for your pet.
  • Be aware that pet rodents can shed germs that can contaminate surfaces in areas where they live and roam. You don’t have to touch pet rodents to get sick from their germs. Make sure rodent enclosures are properly secured and safe so your pet doesn’t get hurt or contaminate surfaces.
  • Keep pet rodents and their supplies out of the kitchen or other areas where food is prepared, served, or consumed.
  • Clean and disinfect rodent habitats and supplies outside your home when possible. If you clean rodent supplies indoors, use a laundry sink or bathtub and be sure to thoroughly clean and disinfect the area immediately after. Never clean rodent habitats or their supplies in the kitchen sink, other food preparation areas, or the bathroom sink.
  • Talk to your veterinarian about your pet’s health. Your veterinarian can play a key role in helping you and your pets stay healthy.
  • Tell your healthcare provider that you have been around pet rodents, whether at home or away from the home, especially if you are sick or have been bitten or scratched. Some rodent germs can cause serious and life-threatening illness in people.
Last revised April 18, 2019