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A rat looks on in the Saint Jacques Tower park, in the center of Paris, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. Paris is on a new rampage against rats, trying to shrink the growing rodent population. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Health officials are investigating an outbreak of the pet rat-linked Seoul virus


Health officials are investigating an outbreak of the rare Seoul virus, which has been linked to pet rats, according to ABC News

Two epidemiologists were sent to Illinois and Wisconsin over the weekend because at least eight people in those states showed symptoms of the virus. The Illinois Department of Health is trying to locate people who either purchased or came in contact with infected rats in an attempt to track where the infected rats came from.

This is the first known outbreak associated with pet rats in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Health officials first discovered the outbreak when a home-based rodent breeder in Wisconsin was hospitalized in December with a fever, headache and other symptoms. Blood tests confirmed that the infection was caused by Seoul virus, which is part of the Hantavirus family, according to the CDC. 

One of the breeder's family members also tested positive for the virus.

Investigators contacted several rat breeders who supplied the initial patient's rats and found six additional cases of the virus at two Illinois rat breeding facilities.

"CDC and its state and local health partners are reaching out to rodent suppliers to learn more about suppliers for the Wisconsin rat breeder," the CDC explained in a release. "These efforts will help determine how the two individuals in Wisconsin were initially exposed to Seoul virus and allow public health officials to take actions to prevent future spread of the virus."

Symptoms of Seoul virus

Seoul virus is carried by wild Norway rats worldwide and people who become ill from the virus usually come in contact with an infected rat's blood, saliva or urine. 

Symptoms can include a fever, severe headaches, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, redness of the eyes, or a rash. Not all people infected with the virus experience these symptoms and most people recover. 

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