Hantavirus: First detection of human infection transmitted by a pet rat

For the first time, Seoul virus could be identified as the cause of hantavirus disease in a German patient. Scientists from the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI), the National Consiliary Laboratory for Hantaviruses (human medicine) of the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin und the German Center for Infection Disease (DZIF) provided clear molecular evidence that the patient’s infection had been caused by a pet rat.

Hantaviruses have been known in Germany for many years and cause a notifiable human disease, which in severe cases can lead to kidney failure. The majority of human cases of disease, which in certain years occur in increased numbers, are caused by Puumala virus, with the bank vole as reservoir host. So far, molecular detection of Seoul virus in Germany has not been successful, although the pathogen has been detected in wild and pet rats in various European countries and some cases of human disease have been described in Europe.

Follow-up examinations will be carried out to identify the exact origin of the pet rat as well as that of the detected pathogen.For this purpose, further investigations of pet and wild rats are planned. A few years ago, a series of cases of disease occurred which had been caused by cowpox virus transmitted by pet rats. “The detection of another zoonotic agent in pet rats underlines once again the necessity to monitor pet rats for the presence of zoonotic pathogens”, emphasizes Prof. Rainer Ulrich, head of the National Reference Laboratory for Hantaviruses at FLI. Within the framework of the DZIF research about the pathogen transmission by rats and other rodents is supported in the research area "Emerging Infections".

The study, which also involved clinicians and local and regional health authorities, has been published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

To the FLI press release

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