skip to main content

Public Health - Seattle & King County

Diseases from rodents, pocket pets and rabbits

Mouse

There are disease concerns with both wild (rats, mice) and pet (rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs) rodents and rabbits. They can carry many diseases including hantavirus, leptospirosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV), Tularemia and Salmonella. Wild rodents also may cause considerable property damage by chewing through wiring in homes, car engines, and other places.

See also: Diseases from rodents, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


Wild rodents

Hantavirus

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe illness caused from exposure to the droppings or urine of deer mice that carry the virus. About 1- 5 hantavirus cases are reported each year in Washington State and about one third of the cases have been fatal. It is important to take precautions when cleaning up an enclosed space such as a shed, cabin or trailer where mice have nested or rodent droppings are present.


Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Leptospira that infects both humans and a wide range of animals. It occurs worldwide but is more common in temperate and tropical areas of the world. Some people infected with leptospirosis will have no symptoms at all, and some people will become severely ill. Some wild and domestic animals, such as cattle, pigs, dogs, raccoons, and rodents, carry the Leptospira bacteria and pass them in their urine. Soil or water contaminated with infected urine are the most common causes of human infection.


Plague

Plague is a serious infection of humans caused by a bacteria called Yersinia pestis. It is usually caused by the bite of a flea that has fed on an infected wild animal, such as a rat, chipmunk or prairie dog. It usually causes large sores and abscesses in the lymph nodes under the arms and legs. Dogs, and especially cats, can also become infected and can spread the disease to their human companions. While Plague has been found in wildlife in many parts of the state including Western Washington, human cases are rare. The most recent documented human infection was in Grant County in 1984. Plague is treatable with antibiotics.


Rat prevention

Rats are dangerous! They can ruin your food, destroy things in your home and start electrical fires. Rats and their fleas can carry disease. Learn tips for preventing rats getting into your building.


Tularemia

Tularemia is a bacterial disease caused by Francisella tularensis and is most commonly found in wild animals (e.g., wild rodents, squirrels, rabbits, hares and beavers). People and their pets can become ill from tularemia by coming into contact with infected dead or ill animals through animal bites and exposure to contaminated blood or raw meat. Tularemia can also be transmitted by the bite of an infected arthropod (e.g. ticks, biting flies), exposure to contaminated water or soil, and inhalation of bacteria. One to 10 cases of tularemia in people are reported every year. To prevent exposures to tularemia, don't handle dead or ill animals; avoid animal bites, tick and deer fly bites; and avoid direct bare-hand contact with blood and raw meat from wild animals. Don't drink untreated water in areas where tularemia is known to occur in wild animals.

Pocket Pets (rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits)

Hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, guinea pigs and rabbits are popular pets in many homes. Occasionally these animals may carry germs or may come into contact with wildlife and can contract diseases that they can then pass on to their human owners.

Rat bite fever

Rat bite fever is a bacterial disease. The bacteria are carried by rats and are part of the normal flora of their mouth and nose. People can get infected through bites or scratches by rats. Up to 10% of rat bites may result in rat bite fever. Other animals such as mice, gerbils, squirrels, cats and dogs can also get infected and may or may not get sick with rat bite fever, and can spread it. Rat bite fever is thought to be rare in the U.S. Persons who handles rats as part of their work or children who live in rat infected areas are at higher risk of this disease.


Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by bacteria called Leptospira that infect both humans and a wide range of animals. It occurs worldwide but is more common in temperate and tropical areas of the world. Some people infected with leptospirosis will have no symptoms at all, and some people will become severely ill. Some wild and domestic animals, such as cattle, pigs, dogs, raccoons, and rodents, carry the Leptospira bacteria and pass them in their urine. Soil or water contaminated with infected urine are the most common causes of human infection.


Salmonellosis - Rodents and Pocket Pets

Salmonellosis is a bacterial infection of the intestines caused by a group of bacteria called Salmonella. The bacteria are shed in the stool of infected animals and humans. Infection can happen when a person eats food or drinks water or milk that has been contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. Infection with Salmonella can cause serious disease, especially in children younger than 5 years of age, the elderly, and persons with weakened immune systems.


Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV)

The primary host of lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCMV) is the common house mouse. Pet rodents can become infected after being in contact with wild house mice infesting pet stores or homes. Pregnant women are most at risk from LCMV infection, which can cause birth defects and mental retardation in the unborn baby.


Monkeypox

Monkeypox is a disease caused by a virus found in monkeys and other animals such as rats, mice and rabbits. It was first discovered in laboratory monkeys in 1958 and in people in 1970. In June 2003, monkeypox was found in several people in United States who likely got sick after contact with infected pet prairie dogs. People get monkeypox from an animal with the virus if they are bitten or if they touch the animal's body fluid or blood. The disease can also spread from person to person through respiratory droplets produced from sneezing or coughing. In Africa, monkeypox kills between one and ten percent of people who get it, but this percentage is likely lower in the United States. There is no specific treatment for monkeypox; but there is a vaccine available that lowers the risk of getting the disease.