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Pet rats from El Paso County linked to multi-state virus outbreak

February 16, 2017 Updated: February 16, 2017 at 4:21 pm
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A rat breeding facility in El Paso County is linked to an outbreak of a rodent-borne virus that has reached 15 states.

El Paso County public health officials have confirmed that there have been two human cases of the Seoul virus in the county. The infected El Paso County rats originally came from breeding facilities in Illinois.

People can contract the diseases if they come into contact with urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents. The virus is not known to spread from person to person, El Paso County public health said in a statement.

The virus can lead to unpleasant symptoms - fever, headache, chills, nausea, and rashes - and, in rare cases, kidney disease, kidney failure or both. Most infections include only moderate symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rats infected with the virus are also in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

The infection may spread if people inhale small particles of contaminated materials, or if the materials are exposed to broken skin or eyes, noses or mouths. People who handle rodents may also contract the virus if bitten by an infected animal.

Anyone who has had contact with rats recently and experienced symptoms should call their healthcare provider, public health officials advised

For people with pet rats, El Paso County health offered these tips to avoid infection:

-Cover all cuts and scratches before handling rats and wash hands after.

-Don't keep rats in an area where food is served or in a child's bedroom, especially when the child is younger than 5.

-Materials for keeping rats, such as cages, bedding, and food and water containers, should not be cleaned in kitchens. Gloves and a face mask should be used to clean the materials.

-Avoid sweeping or vacuuming up rodent urine, droppings or nests, which can disperse small airborne particles of contaminated materials.

-Don't eat or drink near pet rats.

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the source of the outbreak. The origins of the outbreak are Wisconsin and Illinois.

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