The Centers for Disease Control have reported a multi-state outbreak of Seoul Virus, with suspected cases in Arkansas.
Seoul Virus is a hantavirus, a type of disease spread by rodents. The rodents — mice and rats, for example — don’t get sick, but people who have contact with the rodents or their droppings can get sick. Early symptoms of hantavirus include aches and pains and sometimes stomach problems like nausea and diarrhea. Later, breathing problems arise and about 38% of victims of hantavirus die.
A small percentage of people who get sick with Seoul Virus die from renal (kidney) disease or pulmonary (lung) disease.
The confirmed cases, mostly in Wisconsin and Illinois, have been found in people who worked with pet rats. Checking on where the rates raised in the ratteries where people got ill, the CDC found that some had been sent to Arkansas.
How much should you be worrying?
The CDC is a trustworthy source.
Sometimes we see claims from unreliable sources — maybe your old roommate on Facebook — and we shouldn’t be worried at all. But the Centers for Disease Control are a reliable source. If they say that there are suspected cases of Seoul Virus in Arkansas, we can feel sure that there are in fact suspected cases.
These are suspected cases.
There are no confirmed cases of the virus in Arkansas. There are suspected cases. In people or rats. That is not the same as confirmed cases in people in your neighborhood. It is way too early to start worrying.
If you bought rats from small ratteries in Wisconsin or Illinois, you should see your doctor. But the rats in question might have been fed to snakes, or they might not have been infected. At this point, we just know that rats have been sent to Arkansas from a place where people have been infected.
Seoul Virus is spread only by rats.
Some viruses are spread by humans. For example, the Zika virus is mostly spread by mosquitoes, but it can also be spread by sexual contact with an infected person. Cold viruses can be spread in the air. You can catch a cold by sitting near an infected person or shaking hands with someone who has a cold.
Seoul Virus isn’t like that. You can get infected with Seoul Virus if an infected rat bites you, or if you stir up particles of the virus in and infected rat’s urine while you’re cleaning up after a rodent. You should make every effort to keep rodents out of your home and away from your campsite, but you won’t catch the virus from other people in crowds or from touching a doorknob.
When you hear about a disease outbreak, it makes sense to get full information. Make sure the information comes from a reliable source, and make sure that you understand how the disease is spread.
Take sensible precautions — in the case of Seoul Virus, that means keeping rodents out of your home, or handling and cleaning up after pet rodents carefully.
There’s no reason for most people in Northwest Arkansas to worry about Seoul Virus.
If you hear concerning medical news, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. Your doctor is a reliable source of information on all your health concerns.