Eight people who worked at several rat-breeding facilities in Illinois and Wisconsin have been infected with a virus not commonly found in the United States, federal health officials said Friday. This is the first known outbreak of Seoul virus associated with pet rats in the United States, although there have been several outbreaks in wild rats, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Link: 8 people infected in rare U.S. outbreak of rat virus
Seoul virus is a member of the Hantavirus family of rodent-borne viruses and is carried by wild Norway rats worldwide. Most rats infected with the virus do not appear sick.
People typically become infected when they are exposed to body fluids (blood, saliva, urine) from infected rats or are bitten by them. People can't get the virus from other people or from other types of pets, the CDC said in a news release.
Symptoms of Seoul virus infection in people include fever, severe headache, back and abdominal pain, chills, blurred vision, eye redness and rash. In rare cases, infection can lead to kidney disease. Most people infected with the virus recover, according to the CDC.
Update: in defence of rats, don't forget how many people are seriously affected by cat scratch disease in the US each year:
...although it was extremely rare, each year about 12,000 people are diagnosed with cat-scratch disease, and of these, 500 require hospitalization. These incidences were highest in the U.S. southern states and in households with children aged 5 to 9.