NORRISTOWN PA – If your family owns a rat as a pet, and someone in the family becomes inexplicably sick, the Montgomery County Department of Health wants to talk with you about both.
The department is circulating a memo from the state, released Thursday (Feb. 16, 2017), warning about outbreaks of Seoul virus infections carried by domestically bred rats sold as pets. People who become infected with the virus “often exhibit relatively mild or no symptoms,” the document stated, but in rare cases some people “will develop a form of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome” that can cause death.
There’s no indication yet that human Seoul virus infections are a problem in Pennsylvania, but the memo noted the state does not regulate rat purchases or transfers. Health agencies are being cautious, it added, by “investigating the possibility that rats from affected states (currently Wisconsin and Illinois) are have been sent to locations in Pennsylvania.”
For more information, or to report a related illness, call the county at 610-278-5117.
The California-based Rat Assistance And Teaching Society estimates that about a half-million U.S. households own rats as pets. And “contrary to what many people believe, pet rats are not the dirty, disease-infested creatures of folklore,” according to Huffington Post veterinary columnist Dr. Karen Becker. “Domestic rats are affectionate, clean, sensitive, and easy to train,” she’s said.
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