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Rodents Transmit Hantavirus


Rodents Transmit Hantavirus

Deer Mouse

Photo courtesy Washington State

Hantavirus is a potentially deadly disease that can be passed from rodents to humans. In the U.S. it is primarily transmitted by deer mice, but can also be carried and passed by rice rats of the southeast and white-footed mice of the northeast.

The primary disease contracted by humans through infection with a hantavirus is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPS is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease to which anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantavirus is at risk.

The primary cause of hantavirus exposure is rodent infestation in and around the home. It is passed through the rodents' urine, droppings and saliva. Humans are most likely to contract the disease through airborne transmission, that is by breathing in air the becomes contaminated with the virus when fresh rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials are stirred up sending virus tiny droplets airborne. Thus, when around or cleaning up from a rodent infestation, it is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming.

While easily spread from rodent to human, the hantavirus types of the U.S. cannot spread from human to human.

Risky Situations

Hantavirus may also be spread through:

  • being bitten by an infected rodent (though this is rare).
  • touching your nose or mouth after touching something that was contaminated by rodent urine, droppings, or saliva.
  • eating food contaminated by urine, droppings, or saliva from an infected rodent.

Activities that may put people at risk of contracting HPS include:

  • Opening and cleaning recently unused buildings, such as cabins, sheds, and outbuildings, including barns, garages and storage facilities, that have been closed during the winter.
  • Housecleaning in and around your home if it is rodent infested.
  • Work-related exposure, such as that of construction, utility and pest control workers working in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population.
  • Campers and hikers who use infested trail shelters or camp in rodent habitats.
  • Any work, play, or living in closed spaces where rodents are actively living, particularly after continued contact with rodents and/or their droppings.

Signs and Symptoms of HPS

According to CDC, symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome come in stages:

  • Early symptoms include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups-thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms.
  • Late Symptoms occur 4 to 10 days after the initial onset. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with a tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing as the lungs fill with fluid.
  • HPS can be fatal. It has a mortality rate of 38%.
  • According to CDC, "If the individual is experiencing fever and fatigue and has a history of potential rural rodent exposure, together with shortness of breath, would be strongly suggestive of HPS. If the individual is experiencing these symptoms they should see their physician immediately and mention their potential rodent exposure."


Unfortunately, many people diagnosed with HPS said that they had not seen or been around rodents or their droppings, thus precautions should be taken if any hantavirus-carrying rodent species are known to live in the area in which you or your family work, play, or live.

Take steps to prevent rodents in and around your home:

  • Eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite.
  • Seal holes and gaps in your home or garage.
  • Place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation.
  • Clean up litter and piles where rodents like to live and breed.
  • Clean up and/or put away exposed food to make it less attractive and less accessible to rodents.
  • Follow the 10 Top Tips to Keep Pests Out

SOURCE: This article is compiled from information at CDC.

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