I think, as pet owners, we tend to forget that when we bring animals into our home we are also inviting all the icky stuff that comes along with them. You can pick up bacteria, viruses, and parasites from any of your pets. Whether they are always inside, always outside, or in and out. Working at a vet clinic I have seen my fair share of zoonotic(can be passed from pets to humans) diseases.

The Seoul virus is a virus that has been found in some pet rats in a few states and right now the CDC is working to keep it from spreading throughout the United States. This has caused a panic in some people and, of course, that is understandable. Simply hearing that the CDC is involved gives you pictures of the not-so-distant panic of Ebola a few years back. The CDC oversees any illness in the United States. They work on things from second-hand-smoke to cancer to rabies. The simple fact that they are involved should not cause fear.

True facts should outweigh the panic and rumors. Seoul virus is typically associated with a milder illness than other viruses in the same family. In rare cases it can be associated with more severe symptoms, especially in people with weak immune systems. Symptoms seem to be similar to those caused by a flu and can occur anywhere from 1-8 weeks after contact. Seoul virus is not transmittable from person to person. This means if you get it you cannot give it to anyone else and you cannot get it again. Initial symptoms of infection begin suddenly and include intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision. The CDC says there is a 1-2% fatality. Whether you think you have this or any other illness and it is severe you should see a doctor.

This virus is not airborne. You can pick it up from the urine, feces, or saliva of an infected rodent. Rats show no signs of illness at any time, which is how healthy rats were sold with the virus. Seoul is known to be in wild populations of rats in the US. This is not a new disease it is simply new to US pets. (OR unreported, most people would not typically be tested for this. In fact, this virus is considered a part of pet rat ownership in the U.K. and rats are not euthanized due to exposure there.  90% of the humans whom have tested positive so far in the U.S. for antibodies did not even know they were sick.


To put things in perspective I have looked up some other diseases and their fatalities:

Leptospirosis is an annual dog vaccine often declined by pet owners. The dogs can pick it up from any wildlife urinating in your yard. There are 100-200 human cases annually and a 5-30% fatality.

Rabies, another annual or every 3 year pet vaccine. It can be picked up by most mammals by contact with an infected animal or its fluids. There are 1-3 human cases annually with a 100% fatality after symptoms are showing.

Psittacosis is picked up by pet and wild birds (think parrot or parakeet) is 15-20% fatality if left untreated and the CDC sees 1-10 human cases annually.

Cat Scratch Disease(yep this is real) is so common they broke down cases by groups 6.4 cases/100,000 population and among children 5–9 years of age, 9.4 cases/100,000 population. Although it is rarely fatal I could not find figures on it. I do know that it can also cause life-long, chronic pain for the rest of a patient’s life.

The plague is fatal to about 11% of cases with treatment. 66% without treatment. You can get the plague from fleas that bite an infected animal which could be rodents, chipmunks, squirrels, prairie dogs, and cats. There are anywhere from 1-17 human cases of plague each year.

Salmonellosis (the disease from salmonella) has a <1% fatality and is known to be carried in at least 90% of all reptiles.  You can also be exposed by chicks, ducklings, and even dogs, cats, birds and horses. Salmonella is estimated to cause one million foodborne illnesses in the US with 19,000 hospitilizations and 380 deaths annually.

Influenza (the flu) spreads around the world in a yearly outbreak, resulting in approximately three to five million cases of severe illnesses with 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.

Sadly, currently, ratteries around the country have shut down waiting to see how the CDC is going to handle this and how far it is going to go. So far, any pet rat owners or ratteries where the humans have tested positive has ended with all rats in the home being euthanized.

If you want more information about zoonotic diseases visit the CDC website.