The Risk of Hantavirus Infection to Human Health

Disease 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.

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 is those with occupational exposure to rats, including pest control workers.

A pest control worker is unlikely to know if the rats they come into contact with are infected with hantavirus unless they have been tested in a laboratory. Rodents are chronically infected with hantaviruses but are not directly affected by the virus, meaning that they do not show signs of disease. However, they shed live virus in their excreta, such as urine and faeces, into the environment.

At the moment we do not know the risk of becoming infected with hantavirus. Hantavirus infection has been found in wild and pet rats in the UK very recently and the Public Health England study hopes to find out the size of the problem.

General hygiene and protective personal equipment measures to reduce the risk of other rat associated infections should provide some protection against hantavirus.

Essex and Suffolk Pest Solutions – To find out more about our rat control services, click here.

Posted in Mole Control, Rat

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