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Hantavirus: Symptoms, Precautions and Prevention

  • Synopsis: Published: 2014-10-16 - Information regarding Hantavirus, a disease caused by breathing contaminated dust after disturbing or cleaning rodent nests or droppings. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Disabled World at Disabled World.
Hantavirus is named for the Hantan River area in South Korea where an early outbreak was observed. The virus was isolated in the late 1970s by Karl M. Johnson and Ho-Wang Lee. Hantavirus is a single-stranded, enveloped, negative sense RNA viruses in the Bunyaviridae family. They normally infect rodents and don't cause disease in these hosts. Humans may become infected with hantaviruses through contact with rodent urine, saliva, or feces. Some strains of hantaviruses cause potentially fatal diseases in humans, such as Hantavirus hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), while others have not been associated with known human disease.

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Quote: "Always take precautions when you are cleaning, sealing and trapping rodent-infested areas."

Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that are carried by rodents. One of these, 'Sin Nombre virus,' is found in deer mice in North America. Sin Nombre virus is the cause of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in people.

Deer mice excrete the virus in their saliva, urine and droppings.

A person may become exposed to Hantavirus by breathing contaminated dust after disturbing or cleaning rodent nests or droppings, or by working or living in rodent-infested places.

Pets, snakes and predators do not become infected and do not spread Hantavirus infection to people or other animals.

In North America, there is no evidence that the disease spreads from one person to another.

Symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

A person may start to experience symptoms of HPS 1-6 weeks after they inhale the virus. The symptoms usually begin with 3-5 days of flu-like illness which includes symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Sore muscles

As the disease progresses, it causes shortness of breath due to fluids filling the affected person's lungs. The person usually requires care in a hospital setting. HPS is a serious disease and around 1 out of 3 people diagnosed with HPS have died.

The Deer Mouse

The deer mouse is approximately 6 inches long from its nose to the tip of its tail. It is grayish to light brown on top, has large ears, a white belly, as well as a furry tail that is white on the underside. There are a number of other types of mice that may carry Hantavirus that do not have these features.

The deer mouse, 'Peromyscus maniculatus,' is the main carrier of Hantavirus in the western portion of the United States. All wild rodents; however, should be avoided by people. Deer mice live in all parts of Washington State for example; yet mainly in rural areas. Deer mice pass the virus to each other and some of the population of deer mice is usually infected.

Despite the infection, deer mice do not become ill or experience any symptoms. In Washington State, around 14% of more than 1,100 tested deer mice were found to be infected with Sin Nombre virus. Since infected deer mice live throughout the state mentioned as an example, human instances of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) may occur in any part of the state. Between 1 and 5 people are found to be infected with HPS each year in Washington State.

Hantavirus and Infectious Longevity

The amount of time Hantaviruses can remain infectious in the environment is variable and depends on environmental conditions such as humidity and temperature, whether the virus itself is outdoors or indoors, or even on the diet the mouse has been consuming - which would affect the chemistry of the mouse's urine. What it comes down to is that a person cannot tell how old a dropping is, so all rodent droppings should be handled as if they are infectious. Areas with ongoing rodent infestation are especially at risk.

Preventing Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

HPS is a very serious disease and there are several ways you can help to prevent it. Keep rodents out of your home and place of work. Always take precautions when you are cleaning, sealing and trapping rodent-infested areas. Seal up cracks and gaps in buildings that are larger than 1/4 inch, to include window and door sills, underneath sinks and around pipes, in foundations, attics, and around any rodent entry hole. You can also clean up rodent-infested areas by pursuing the following suggestions:

  • Wear rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves
  • Do not stir up dust by sweeping, vacuuming, or by any other means
  • Bury, burn, or throw out rodents in appropriate waste disposal systems
  • Disinfect your gloves with disinfectant or soap and water before you take them off
  • Spray dead rodents with disinfectant and then double-bag along with all cleaning materials
  • Steam clean or shampoo upholstered furniture and carpets with evidence of exposure to rodents
  • After you have taken off clean gloves, thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub if soap is not available

Completely wet areas that are contaminated, to include trapped mice, droppings and nests, with a 10% bleach solution. Mix 1.5 cups of household bleach in 1 gallon of water. After everything is soaked for 10 minutes, remove all of the nesting material, mice or droppings with a damp towel and then mop or sponge the area with bleach solution.

Precautions to Use when Working, Hiking, or Camping Outdoors

People love the outdoors just as much as other forms of life. People also work outside in many different occupations. Some recommended precautions to pursue while working, hiking, or camping outdoors related to Hantavirus and HPS include the following:

  • Do not sweep out infested cabins
  • Do not handle or feed wild rodents
  • Keep food in rodent-proof containers
  • Use tents with floors or a ground cloth
  • If you can, do not sleep on the bare ground
  • Air out shelters and cabins and then check for signs of rodent infestation
  • Do not pitch tents or place sleeping bags near rodent droppings or burrows
  • Follow the guidelines for disinfecting shelters or cabins before sleeping in them
  • Avoid coming into contact with rodents, their burrows or dens such as pack rat nests
  • Handle trash according to site restrictions and keep it in rodent-proof containers until you dispose of it

If you have been exposed to rodents or rodent infested buildings and experience a fever, shortness of breath and muscle aches - visit your health care provider at once. Inform your health care provider of your potential rodent exposure so they are alerted to the possibility of rodent-borne diseases such as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.


CDC - Hantavirus

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