What is Hantavirus?
The hantavirus is a serious virus most often carried by particular rodents. When contracted by a human, the virus can cause a rare, but potentially fatal, syndrome called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). About 30-40% of people who contract HPS will die from it. Only some kinds of mice and rats carry the HPS-causing virus, including deer mice, white-footed mice, rice rats, and cotton rats. Some rodents, including house mice, are not known to cause HPS. But don’t let the species names be deceiving–mice other than “house mice” are often found in homes. Since it is very difficult to determine whether a mouse or rat carries hantavirus, you should take precautions to avoid any contact with any and all mice and rats. If you discover a mouse or rat in your home, be sure to have a professional clean up any droppings and/or nests.
How Do Humans Contract the Virus?
Any person who is introduced to the virus can contract HPS, including adults and children. Human infection occurs when people breathe in the virus when mouse or rat droppings or urine are disturbed. This sends the infectious particles up into the air. Infection can also occur as a result of direct contact with urine, droppings, or nest pieces that are infected with the virus followed by contact with the nose, eyes, or mouth. It’s important to note that the Hantavirus is not usually contagious once a person becomes infected. In the United States, there has never been a case in which a person with HPS has given the disease to another person.
What Are the Symptoms of Hantavirus?
People that are affected by the virus don’t usually start showing symptoms of HPS until 1 to 5 weeks after they were exposed to mice or rats carrying the virus. The first symptoms of HPS include fever, severe muscle aches, and noticeable fatigue. These symptoms almost always occur in affected patients. After 10 days, most people experience the “late” symptoms of the virus, characterized by shortness of breath. Throughout, some people experience headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
Where Are the Affected Areas?
While HPS is a very rare disease, cases have occurred in all regions of the United States except for Alaska and Hawaii. As of January 2019, five mice trapped in routine monitoring in southeastern, north-central and northern areas of San Diego tested positive for hantavirus.
Is There a Known Treatment?
There is no known treatment for a hantavirus infection (there are also currently no vaccines available). Infected people should seek hospital care as soon as possible after showing symptoms in order to increase their chance of survival.
How Can I Protect Myself from Hantavirus?
The most effective protection from hantavirus is to rodent-proof your home. Rodents that take up residence in your home (e.g. in an attic) can leave up to 75 droppings per day, meaning the situation can get out of hand quickly–putting you and your family at risk. If you suspect that you have a contaminated attic, be sure to call professionals to inspect and clean the space. Professionals will know which precautions to take when cleaning the space (including using the correct gear). They can also help to advise you on rodent-proofing your home in order to ensure that you won’t run into the same problem again and again.
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