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High prevalence of Seoul hantavirus in a breeding colony of pet rats

  • L. M. McELHINNEY (a1) (a2), D. A. MARSTON (a1), K. C. POUNDER (a2), H. GOHARRIZ (a1), E. L. WISE (a1), J. VERNER-CARLSSON (a3), D. JENNINGS (a1), N. JOHNSON (a1), A. CIVELLO (a4), A. NUNEZ (a4), T. BROOKS (a2) (a5), A. C. BREED (a6) (a7), J. LAWES (a6), Å. LUNDKVIST (a3) (a8), C. A. FEATHERSTONE (a9) and A. R. FOOKS (a1) (a2)...


As part of further investigations into three linked haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) cases in Wales and England, 21 rats from a breeding colony in Cherwell, and three rats from a household in Cheltenham were screened for hantavirus. Hantavirus RNA was detected in either the lungs and/or kidney of 17/21 (81%) of the Cherwell rats tested, higher than previously detected by blood testing alone (7/21, 33%), and in the kidneys of all three Cheltenham rats. The partial L gene sequences obtained from 10 of the Cherwell rats and the three Cheltenham rats were identical to each other and the previously reported UK Cherwell strain. Seoul hantavirus (SEOV) RNA was detected in the heart, kidney, lung, salivary gland and spleen (but not in the liver) of an individual rat from the Cherwell colony suspected of being the source of SEOV. Serum from 20/20 of the Cherwell rats and two associated HFRS cases had high levels of SEOV-specific antibodies (by virus neutralisation). The high prevalence of SEOV in both sites and the moderately severe disease in the pet rat owners suggest that SEOV in pet rats poses a greater public health risk than previously considered.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Corresponding author

*Author for correspondence: Dr L. McElhinney, Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), Weybridge, Surrey, UK. (Email:


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