Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessions

All questions, problems and suggestions about the way the forum works

please indicate whether you are attending a testing session

I'm being tested at the Halifax session
I'm being tested at the Tempsford session
I'd like to be tested but can't make either of the above
Total votes: 37

Fancy Rats Admin
Fancy Rats Team
Posts: 350
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:22 pm

Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessions

Post by Fancy Rats Admin » Sun Feb 17, 2013 10:31 am

We would like to share some recent discoveries about a virus that has been found in some rats. The Hantavirus is carried by rodents and can be transmitted to humans via dried excreta and urine or saliva. The rodents are not affected by it and do not show any symptoms. The Seoul strain (not to be confused with other strains of Hantavirus) has been detected in the wild rat population of certain parts of the country, and it has also been identified in some rats from a breeder. The Health Protection Agency are investigating by inviting rat owners to be tested for antibodies by way of a blood test at their local GP, which will give an indication of how widespread it might be. The results will take a week or two and when updates are published they will be added to here. Once systems have been put into place, it will be possible to have this done anonymously.

There is no need to be unduly concerned, but it would be sensible to let the doctor know if you come down with flu-like symptoms especially if any are kidney related. As a precaution, wear dust masks and gloves when cleaning out, and discourage rats from cleaning your mouth or nose. It cannot be transferred between humans, nor from human to rat.
the NFRS wrote:At the present time no UK Rat Clubs know anything conclusive and continue to take advice from the Health Protection Agency. Any statements made about this virus within the Fancy Rat population within the UK at this present time would be pure conjecture.
It is also worth remembering that there are other diseases that can potentially be caught from rats, and at this stage there is nothing to suggest this virus should pose any more of a worry than they do, so there is no need for panic. It's probable that either only a few pet rats carry it, or it is widespread. If it is widespread then clearly the risk of becoming ill is very low or there would have been many cases by now.

Further information is included in the following statement by Lisa on her own situation, along with some answers to FAQs:
RCTLisa wrote:The last few weeks have been a distressing period for me and it has come time to share some important information with the Rat Fancy. Please read to the end as there will be some useful guidelines.

Last November one of my relatives was hospitalised with an unknown illness. During the two months he was in hospital just about every test was carried out to identify the cause and this was eventually traced to Hantavirus. As this requires that the Health Protection Agency (HPA) be informed the doctors at the “Rare & Imported Pathogens Laboratory” were involved.

When they discovered that my relative owned rats they asked to take some tissue samples from them to test. They also proved to be positive for Hantavirus. As these rats had come from me almost two years ago I agreed to allow them to take tests from my rats and also from myself and Robert. All of these tests came back positive also. Of the 20 rats tested, 7 of them were actively excreting live virus, the others all showed positive antibodies to some degree or another, indicating that they had either been exposed to the virus or were carrying it in a more dormant phase.

Our personal tests also showed positive – with Robert’s blood work showing a much higher antibody count than my own. Curiously he had been ill in November 2011 and they were able to test some blood samples from this time – also positive but at a much lower level than at present. This has led them to believe that it was a Hantavirus infection he had then.

This presented me with a stark choice. While we both carry some immunity from the virus due to our antibodies, not enough is known about the wide range of Hantavirus strains to be able to tell us that we were safe from infection. With the extremely limited data they had it was felt that the risk was too high and we reluctantly agreed to having all of the rats put to sleep. This was carried out last week.

It is important to stress that this is a rat->human infection, human->human isn’t possible and they have been no known cases of other animals being infected by contact with infected rats. Rats that have the disease show no signs or symptoms of any illness.
The lead at Porton Down, Dr Tim Brooks, suggested that in his opinion this disease will prove to be endemic throughout the Rat Fancy and his team are keen to start testing for this as soon as they can. More details of this will be available shortly. In the meantime they are beginning a testing process for concerned rat owners.

Anyone wishing to be tested will need to contact their GP to arrange a blood sample to be taken which will forwarded to Dr Brooks and his team. At the present time these tests aren’t anonymous – that should also follow shortly. To speed the process along there are two documents to present to your GP – one is an open letter from my local HPA consultant to the GP explaining what is happening and the other goes with the sample to identify it to the lab. If you wish to be tested, please contact me (email below) for a copy of the letter and form.  PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE TESTS ARE VOLUNTARY AND NOT A REQUIREMENT. 

The HPA should have general advice available in the next few days regarding handling, cleaning etc. Online there is some advice from the American CDC which will form the basis for what they are drafting. 

Until the HPA can get advice out to the medical profession on what to look for they suggest that rat owners and their families be aware of the symptoms in humans. Initially it is like a bad cold or flu – the two known cases had kidney infection as a part of this. If you do have a bad cold or flu make sure you mention this to your GP – they can speak with the HPA to get more specialist advice.

No one is able to say where this infection has come from. As mentioned above, Dr Brooks believes that the virus is common throughout the fancy rat population. As the illness is so similar to flu in humans, unless there were complications along with it people may have been infected without ever knowing. By chance my relative lived in very close proximity to his rats and used what the CDC regard as unsafe methods for cleaning them out. Combined with a period of inactivity due to a serious ankle injury he was at a low point physically and may have been more susceptible to the virus.

If you have any questions please contact me directly (lisa@rctstud.co.uk) – I can answer you privately and generate some FAQ (with identifying information removed) that others can use. Also, as soon as the HPA have any more advice or information I’ll put it up for all to read.

Lisa & Robert Harries

Some FAQ's
PLEASE NOTE: Please do not send me a message every hour until I reply.  I promise I will get back to you within 24 hours.

1.   Can other pets be affected by this virus?  (Dogs, Cats, hedgehogs, Chinchillas, gerbil, degus, ferrets)
At present the HPA is unaware of other species being infected. Generally speaking each strain of a Hantavirus is confined to one species: This is SEOUL stain linked to Rattus Norvegicus.

2.   If people agree to testing, and their rats test positive, will they be forced to have them removed/put to sleep?
No. The HPA will make recommendations should animals be tested positive. Example: If 20 ratteries are tested but only 3 are positive they would recommend euthanasia in those 3 positives to close out a localised infection. If the infection is much more widespread they would be less inclined to recommend such a course of action. Even in the one known case, the HPA are not enforcing anything but have recommended a course of action.
ETA Fancy Rats wrote:It has been suggested that Local Authorities may be likely to make euthanasia compulsory where rats are confirmed as excreting hantavirus. They would not be able to do so if the test has been done anonymously.

3.   Should we (Rat Fancy) be worried?
Again without data it’s impossible to answer this. Statistically from a risk point of view the HPA know of one outbreak with 4 humans coming into contact with infected rats. Of those 3 show a positive level of antibodies – 2 of whom got sick. This would mean this strain of virus carries a very high risk. If (as Dr Brooks already suspects – albeit without proper evidence) the disease is endemic through the rat population and a lot of people have been exposed – the risk is low.

4.   Is there anything we can reasonably do?
Again this depends on how widespread the infection is. If it’s common then to stop the rat fancy would be valueless. You can individually protect yourselves to some extent, especially when cleaning your cages. A dust mask (the primary route is inhalation of infected particulate) and gloves (urine is another source) are simple and easy. Ideally dampen the bedding with a mild disinfectant to lower the dust and wash your hands etc. If you (or others living in proximity to the rats) get sick with flu like symptoms – especially if there is associated kidney problems make sure you inform your doctor so they can arrange immediate screening.

5.   Is it likely that you brought infected rats to any shows recently and caused possible cross-infection?
Yes this is almost certainly a route for spreading the infection. As noted above the primary cause is the dust raised from bedding that has been contaminated spreading in the air. However there is no sign of disease in infected rats so there would be no means of detecting this infection to know that showing / breeding / homing animals was a risk to others.

6. I have had rats from your stud?
It must be stressed that my stud was simply the first to have the virus identified, and that solely down to a relative getting sick. There is nothing to suggest that my stud was the source. Any rattery or stud that has had any contact with any rat from outside the Rat Fancy could have been the initial infection (Wild rats are known to carry the virus – perhaps a rodent farm bred a wild rat, sold to a pet shop, animal wasn’t domesticated enough and was sent to a rescue & got rehomed…)
At this stage I would say no until more tests have been carried out by the HPA and we have more of idea how wide spread this really is. 

7. How is this transferred rat to rat?
There are two stages of infection, active & dormant. In the active phase the rats excrete live virus (& in their urine). Other rats come into contact with that infection either through direct contact or by inhaling contaminated dust particles (especially from bedding etc)

7b. This is the same route for infection rat-human. There is NO means of infection human to human

8. Do we know anything about how long rats can carry/shed the virus for?
The rodent will be infectious for prolonged periods, probably for life.

9. Google. There are a lot of pages on Google that appear to relate to Hantavirus in rats. Almost all of them are totally unrelated to this infection – so please don’t read them and try to apply them. The UK team at Porton Down are fully involved and working with the National Fancy Rat Society towards a solution that works for all.
We would ask that general questions be raised on the discussion thread here to minimise demands on Lisa and Robert at what is clearly a difficult and distressing time for them and their family.
Fancy Rats Team

Fancy Rats Admin
Fancy Rats Team
Posts: 350
Joined: Wed Jul 06, 2011 5:22 pm

Re: Announcement regarding Hantavirus

Post by Fancy Rats Admin » Thu Oct 03, 2013 5:49 pm

If someone has been exposed to this virus (whether from rats or through some other means), they will still have antibodies in their blood system - a small number of rat owners have already been tested and found to have these antibodies without ever having been knowingly ill.

Public Health England (previously known as the Health Protection Agency, HPA) is running a study to ascertain how widespread the virus is by finding out what proportion of different sectors of the public have these antibodies.

This is their protocol for the study:
Hantaviruses infect rodents worldwide and several species are known to infect humans, with varying severity. Once the rodent is infected, it secretes the infectious virus, with transmission to humans occurring through inhalation of infected animal excreta and fluids (e.g. urine, faeces and saliva). Hantavirus infection in humans can cause two types of diseases; haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS; present in Europe, Asia and Africa) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS; present in the Americas). HFRS syndrome, which is present in Europe, is an acute viral disease characterized by sudden onset of fever, lower back pain, varying degrees of haemorrhagic manifestations and renal involvement, with many infections causing flu-like illness.

Hantavirus infections in the UK were considered, until recently, to be rare. However, in the past 3 years, 5 such infections have been confirmed in patients with acute kidney injury. The patients reported no travel history outside the UK. Two of the five patients reported recent exposure to wild rats within a rural, agricultural environment. The remaining three patients reported exposure to domesticated “fancy” rats. Several of the rats in a breeding colony relating to human infection were found to be actively excreting virus and further testing of the surrounding network of fancy rat owners found a number were confirmed seropositive for previous hantavirus infection. Many of these rat owners reported having had no symptoms.

The recent cases of hantavirus in UK residents without travel suggest that the problem may be more widespread than is currently known and that there may be a health risk to those who breed, own or handle pet rats in the UK, or are exposed to wild or pet rats through their occupation. There is a need to determine the extent of the problem such that solid public health advice can be given to these groups.

To determine what proportion of those in contact with domesticated and wild rats have been infected by hantavirus, to inform risk assessment and public health advice.

Project details
A study team from Public Health England have designed a clinical study to investigate the incidence of hantavirus infections in four groups. The study will determine previous exposure to hantaviruses through seroconversion in three “at risk” groups compared to a baseline taken from the general population. The four groups are defined as:

Group 1: General population (baseline)
Blood donations taken from the general population to determine the baseline exposure risk (samples will be purchased from the National Blood Service).

Group 2: Owners and breeders of domesticated “fancy” rats.
We are working with the National Fancy Rat Society and volunteers will be recruited through attendance at a number of regional rat shows or meets.

Group 3: Those with occupational exposure to pet rats.
Volunteers for this group will be sought through breeders who supply pet shops.

Group 4: Those with occupational exposure to wild rats.
Volunteers for this group will be sought from those occupations with likely exposure to wild rats, specifically pest control workers, farmers and sewage workers.

It is intended to recruit 300 volunteers to each study group. For each volunteer, a consent form and questionnaire will be completed (estimated completion time: 5 mins) and a blood sample will be taken. The questionnaire will allow assessment of the range of illness experienced by those infected with hantavirus, including the proportion who report no symptoms. A participant information leaflet (see separate document*) on hantavirus and the study will be provided to all participants at the time of recruitment. All patients and samples will be anonymous.

The results of the study will inform Public Health England and the Department of Health of the extent of the problem with hantaviruses in pet and wild rats in England. Using this data, risk assessments will be made for each exposure group and public health advice given to pet owners, those occupationally exposed to rats and their employers.

Ethical approval
The study has been reviewed and approved by the National Research Ethics Committee.
The participant information leaflet reads:
Request for Volunteers for Blood Donation

“What are hantaviruses?”
Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that are normally carried by rodents, such as rats, mice and voles. They are present throughout the world and they cause a range of diseases in humans ranging from mild, flu-like illness to severe respiratory illness or haemorrhagic disease with kidney involvement. Old World hantaviruses (those present in Europe, Asia and Africa) tend to cause haemorrhagic and kidney disease, whilst new world hantaviruses tend to cause severe respiratory disease. Although present around the world this infection is not known to have become established in England. Recently a few cases of infection have been reported in England.

“What is the study?”
Public Health England is to carry out a study to determine the risk of exposure to hantavirus infection in those groups who have close contact with domesticated and wild rats in England. The results of this study will inform public health advice and risk assessment for those who are at risk of exposure. One of the study groups identified for inclusion in the study are owners and breeders of domesticated rats.

“Will my rats be at risk?”
No. This study is anonymous and there is no risk to your rats from participating in the study. We will not be asking for personal information such as names and addresses and your blood sample and all information relating to you and your sample will be coded without any personal identification. The information from your sample will then be used for the study but no-one will be able to identify you from this information. The results of the study will be used to inform public health advice only.

“What is the risk of me becoming infected?”
At the moment, we don’t know. Hantavirus infection has been found in wild and pet rats in the UK very recently and we would like to find out the size of the problem, which is why we are conducting this study. We do know that although some people have been very ill, most of those found to be infected so far have had mild illness.

“How can I volunteer for the study and what do you need from me?”
...You will need to sign a consent form, then a trained nurse will take a small blood sample (10ml) and we will ask you to complete a short questionnaire.

“What can I do to prevent infection?”
General hygiene and protective personal equipment measures to reduce the risk of other rat associated infections should provide some protection against hantavirus. For more information go to the hantavirus pages at:
http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/Infectious ... taviruses/.

“What if I volunteer, then change my mind?”
You are entitled to pull out of the study at any time.

There are two sessions lined up in November which anyone is welcome to attend:

November 9th - Halifax, Sowood Community Centre, HX4 9HY, 10am - 1pm
Organised by the Yorkshire Rat Club but open to everyone.

November 23rd - Bedfordshire, Tempsford Village Hall, SG19 2AW, 10am - 2pm
The NFRS AGM will take place at this venue after the session, but again, everyone is welcome, you don't need to be a member to come in the morning.

Just to reiterate - all testing will be anonymous, and therefore you will not be able to find out your results. There will also be packs available to take home to test urine samples from your rats. These will be connected to your results via a code so will still be anonymous. Full instructions will be given.

It will be quite hard to recruit as many as 300 at just these two venues so there may be more scheduled for later - however, if you are able to get to one of these sessions, please do try to go along, it's also going to be a great opportunity to meet up! :luck:
Fancy Rats Team

User avatar
cyber ratty
Fancy Rats Team
Posts: 6230
Joined: Thu Jul 07, 2011 8:47 am
Location: South Cambridgeshire

Re: Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessi

Post by cyber ratty » Wed Oct 30, 2013 9:34 am

A poll has been added to provide numbers for the testing sessions.

Looby Loo
Posts: 48
Joined: Mon Nov 07, 2011 8:42 pm
Location: Manchester

Re: Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessi

Post by Looby Loo » Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:02 pm

Where do I get the form from to be tested at my GP.
I'm a little concerned as my partner has pulmonary problems which he is being treated for, however is no better.

User avatar
Posts: 4650
Joined: Sun Aug 14, 2011 7:09 pm
Location: Forest of Dean

Re: Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessi

Post by NellyNoodle » Sun Nov 24, 2013 10:04 pm

I think you can just contact your GP and explain, and ask them to contact the HPA for a testing kit.
However a positive result for you, or indeed your partner, may not prove that it's what's causing his illness as many people test positive without the virus ever making them ill.
Sorry that he's poorly x x

User avatar
Posts: 59
Joined: Wed Dec 25, 2013 5:11 am

Re: Hantavirus Announcement-please see poll re testing sessi

Post by soulphish » Tue Dec 31, 2013 11:51 am

Are there any results published from these tests yet?
Alpha rat to 4 girls:
Noodles, Spaghetti, Cookie, and Sophie


Return to “Forum help”