Rat infection: North Wales owner catches hantavirus
Owners of pet rodents are being warned about the risk of infections after a man from north Wales ended up in hospital.
The rat owner contracted the hantavirus, which is passed from rodents to humans through inhalation of infected animal waste.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said he had "acute kidney injury" and was one of two people infected recently.
It has issued new hygiene guidance for rodent owners.
Advice for rodent owners
- Do not eat, drink or smoke while tending to your pet rodent.
- Keep rodent cages clean and remove soiled bedding often.
- Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after handling your rodent or cleaning their cage or any other materials such as bedding, toys etc.
- Do not kiss pet rodents or hold them close to your face.
- Cover cuts, scratches or sores with a waterproof plaster before handling animals.
- Keep your pet rodent out of rooms where food is prepared and eaten, and limit the parts of the house where it is allowed to roam freely.
- Do not use kitchen sinks for washing cages or equipment. If you use a bathroom sink, shower or bathtub, it must be cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant afterwards.
- Source: HPA
It urged people to not eat, drink or smoke while tending to a pet rodent, to refrain from kissing it, to cover cuts on hands before handling them and to keep them in clean cages away from rooms where food is prepared and eaten.
It comes after two rodent owners were infected with the hantavirus, which can be passed to humans through the animals' urine, faeces and saliva - usually through a bite.
HPA said the hantavirus infection, which does not not pass from person-to-person, usually starts with flu-like symptoms but can go on to cause respiratory symptoms and kidney dysfunction.
Lisa Jameson, a research fellow at the HPA, said all animals, whether wild or pets, carry bacteria and viruses.
"Hantavirus infections are rare in the UK although they can cause very serious infections in people who are exposed and are susceptible.," she said.
"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.
"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."