Containing an Outbreak Seoul Hantavirus in Wisconsin

In early 2017, a child in Wisconsin fell sick with a rare illness spread through rats – Seoul hantavirus. Symptoms of this virus include intense headache, back and abdominal pain, fever, nausea, rash, red eyes, blurred vision, and, in severe cases, kidney failure. In the coming months, two more cases would follow, bringing Wisconsin into what was, at the time, a multistate outbreak of the disease that included Illinois and Utah.

Seoul hantavirus is contagious among rats, although it does not make them ill, and they show no symptoms. Human can contract the disease by coming into contact with the blood, saliva, or urine of rats. Most of the human cases in this outbreak were among people who worked in ratteries, or commercial breeders of rats.

Throughout the outbreak, CDC epidemiologists investigated ratteries and tested rats to determine the source of the outbreak. The epidemiologists used Facebook to locate and contact people who may have been exposed to infected rats, encouraging them to visit a healthcare professional immediately.

The PHEP-funded state health department coordinated all aspects of the Wisconsin response. To keep the epidemiologists and other front-line responders safe, PHEP-funds provided personal protective equipment, and PHEP-funded staff trained responders on how to put on and take off the equipment without exposing themselves to contaminated materials. PHEP-funded health communicators also developed a public messaging campaign, alerting people to the risks, the signs and symptoms of Seoul hantavirus, and tips for how to handle rats safely.

Each of the patients recovered, and thanks to the rapid and effective response of state and federal public health staff, the outbreak was contained with no further human cases.

Rat closeup

Humans contract Seoul hantavirus through contact with rats.

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The Incident

In early 2017, a child in Wisconsin fell sick with a rare illness spread through rats – Seoul hantavirus.

The Response

PHEP-funded staff provided personal protective equipment for responders and developed a risk communication campaign.

The Outcomes

Thanks to the rapid and effective response of public health staff, the outbreak was contained with no further human cases.

Page last reviewed: December 18, 2020, 04:55 PM