Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a rare but severe, and sometimes fatal respiratory disease. It is transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings, or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus. Rodent control in and around the home remains the primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infection.
Hantaviruses are a family of several viruses found in rodents. These viruses have caused serious human health problems in other parts of the world. In 1993, a new strain of hantavirus wasidentified as the cause of severe illnesses in the southwestern U.S. This new strainattacks the lungs and causes a condition called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.
More: Facts about Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
How is hantavirus transmitted?
The virus is thought to be mainly carried by two common rodents: the white-footed mouse and the deer mouse. These mice are native to most of the U.S., including Vermont. Infected rodents shed the virus in saliva, feces, and urine. Humans can become infected when they breathe in dust that contains the dried urine or feces from an infected rodent—or when fresh or dried materials containing infected rodent feces come into direct contact with broken skin, or the eyes, nose, or mouth.
The virus may also be spread by a bite from an infected rodent, but this is very rare. Insect bites and household pets are not thought to play a role in transmission. In addition, squirrels, birds, hamsters, and rabbits are not known carriers of the hantavirus. There is no evidence of person-to-person transmission of the hantavirus in the U.S.
What type of illness does hantavirus infection cause?
Typical cases begin with flu-like signs of sickness (especially fever and muscle aches) one to six weeks after exposure, followed by difficulty breathing, which is caused by fluid build-up in the lungsand quickly progresses to an inability to breathe. Once this phase begins, the disease progresses rapidly. About a third of people who have been diagnosed with this disease in the U.S. since 1994 have died. However, there may have been many milder cases that were never diagnosed.
Can a person get hantavirus here in Vermont?
Although hantavirus infections are very rare in the U.S., it is possible to get hantavirus in Vermont. Very few cases of human infection from this virus have been reported east of the Mississippi River. However, it is a good idea to avoid contact with rodents and their droppings, since the white-footed mouse and the deer mouse, which are associated with hantavirus in other states, are native to Vermont.
Guidelines for Clean-up and Decreasing Exposure to Rodents
There are a number of health reasons to avoid mice and their droppings. Hantavirus is carried by rodents such as white-footed mice and deer mice. These mice are native to most of the U.S., including Vermont. Simple measures that can be taken to decrease exposure to mice and mouse droppings are given below.
The CDC also offers helpful suggestions on rodent control.
Clean houses or buildings with rodent droppings
- Open windows and air out building or area before cleaning. The best protection is to keep rodent droppings from drying out and becoming airborne as dust.
- Wear rubber gloves while cleaning up and disinfect gloves before taking them off, using disinfectantor soap and water. After taking off gloves, thoroughly wash hands with soap and water.
- To reduce dust in the air, rodent debris should be wetted with a household disinfectant solution. (Mixing 1.5 cups of household bleach in 1 gallon of water may be used in place of a commercial disinfectant.)
- Debris should then be wiped up and placed in double plastic bags, together with any cleanup materialssuch as paper towels.
- Do not vacuum or sweep because this will put dust into the air. Avoid skin contact with debris.
- Buildings can be rodent-proofed by sealing all small openings, clearing away trash and dense shrubbery within 100 feet of the building, and storing all food (including pet food) and garbage in tightly sealed containers.
- Snap traps can be used to catch mice within a building, but take care to avoid direct contact with theanimal and its droppings.
- Dead animals should be soaked or sprayed with disinfectant and buried or disposed of.
When camping or hiking where hantavirus cases have been identified
There is no evidence to suggest that travel into affected areas should be restricted. However, anyone camping, hiking, or engaging in other outdoor activities should take precautions to avoid exposure.
- Avoid contact with rodents and rodent burrows. Do not use rodent-infested cabins until they havebeen cleaned and disinfected. Don’t sleep on the bare ground, and keep food and garbage in rodent-proof containers.
- Use only bottled water or water that has been disinfected by filtration, boiling, chlorination, oriodination for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and brushing teeth.