Hantavirus: A Potentially Fatal Disease Spread by Mice
By: Rita Stadler
Mice have been popularized as cute, little companions in many cartoons and stories. They even play an important role in natural ecosystems by helping break down decaying matter, spreading seeds, and serving as a food source for larger animals. However, rodents can pose a serious public health threat when they get too close to people. Rats and mice are known to spread dozens of diseases ranging from rat bite fever to the plague and hantavirus.
What is hantavirus?
According to the Center for Disease Control, hantavirus is part of a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents. In North America, hantavirus has been known to cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). The virus is contracted by breathing air containing pathogens spread from shed mouse hairs, urine, and feces. The deer mouse is the primary culprit responsible for spreading the Sin Nombre virus–the most common and serious form of hantavirus in the U.S.
Hantavirus symptoms include:
- A dry cough followed by rapid onset of breathing difficulty
- Fever greater than 101◦F, chills, body aches, headaches
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and have been exposed to rodents recently, please follow up with a healthcare professional.
How can you prevent hantavirus?
Since hantavirus is spread by shed hairs, saliva, urine, and feces of infected rodents–you need to be especially careful when cleaning up after rodents. The CDC has detailed guidelines you should follow to protect yourself from diseases like hantavirus.
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First, open doors and windows in the affected area to ventilate the space and let fresh air in for 30 minutes prior to cleaning. Leave the area during this airing out phase. When you return, make sure to wear rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves.
Hantavirus is spread by inhaling pathogens left behind by rodents, so it’s extremely important to avoid stirring up any rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials by sweeping or vacuuming the area. Instead, spray all surfaces with a mixture of bleach and water and let soak for 5 minutes. The recommended concentration of bleach solution is 1 part bleach to 10 parts water. After the bleach mixture has set for at least 5 minutes, clean the area with paper towels or disposable cloths. Finally, dispose of all cleaning cloths in a sealed plastic bag into an outdoor garbage bin.
How to prevent deer mice
Deer mice–the most common vector for hantavirus–tend to live in rural or semi-rural settings. Therefore, preventing rodent infestations in these areas is especially important. Places such as lake cabins, storage facilities, farms, and homes near the edge of natural habitats or preserves are more likely to encounter these pests.
Deer mice don’t typically nest in occupied homes where people reside, but they may set up camp in your seasonal cabin or recreational vehicles during the offseason. Deer mice are also notorious for leaving collections of seeds and nuts scattered around their home area. They make globe shaped nests which they abandon after a few weeks–frequently needing to rebuild new ones. Attics, basements, barns, garden sheds, and voids underneath porches and decks are common places where you may see signs of deer mice.
To keep rodents out of your home and property, make sure food and nesting materials that may attract rodents are properly stored. Keep food in an airtight container and keep clutter to a minimum to prevent rodent infestations. For proven protection, keep a few pouches of Fresh Cab rodent repellent in the areas mentioned above.