RodentThe Health Protection Agency (HPA) has issued a warning and advice to owners of pet rodents, following two recent cases of hantavirus.

The HPA’s call follows the publication of a new paper in the journal Eurosurveillance , which published details of the two cases.

The first involved a man from North Wales who kept pet rats and was admitted to hospital with an acute kidney injury that required hospital treatment. The second case centred on a rat breeder’s spouse who was admitted to hospital in 2011 with an undiagnosed viral illness resulting in renal impairment.

Both cases recovered.

In the majority of cases, hantavirus infections present as non-specific, mild flu-like illness. Symptoms in more moderate disease are fever, headache, respiratory symptoms and kidney dysfunction. In the most serious cases, haemorrhaging occurs. Hantavirus infections cannot be passed from person-to-person.

Study author Lisa Jameson, a research fellow at the HPA, said: “All animals whether they are pets or wild, can carry bacteria and viruses that cause infections in people. Hantavirus infections are rare in the UK although they can cause very serious infections in people who are exposed and are susceptible.

“Given these cases and the possibility of acquiring other infections from pet rodents, we have developed guidance for people who keep pet rodents on how they can reduce their risk of infection. Long-term studies are also planned by the HPA and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to more accurately estimate the prevalence of hantavirus among the rodent population in the UK.

“We want people to enjoy their pets and handling them, and as long as people follow the guidelines regarding hygiene and handling, then the risk of becoming unwell from an infection is very low.”

The HPA has also issued advice aimed at reducing the risk of catching an infection from a pet rodent:

  • Do not eat, drink or smoke while tending to your pet rodent
  • Keep rodent cages clean and remove soiled bedding regularly
  • Always wash hands thoroughly after handling your rodent or cleaning its cage
  • Do not kiss pet rodents or hold them close to your face
  • Keep rodents away when you are preparing your food
  • Use waterproof plasters if you have a cut before handling
  • Do no wash cages or equipment in sinks or baths, and, if you do, disinfect thoroughly before using again.