Hantavirus is a virus that infects rodents. Although the disease lies dormant in the rodent host, it can infect humans, leading to a disease called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) or Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS). HFRS has not been seen in the U.S, but HPS is very common as a result to Hantavirus exposure and can be fatal. The strain of Hantavirus that causes the majority of HPS infections is called Sin Nombre virus. This virus is not contagious in the U.S, but is easily contracted.
Hantavirus is spread though rodent urine, feces and saliva. Most often, it is contracted as an airborne infection when a person breathes in contaminated air. There are other methods of transmission. The first is through a bite from the infected rodent, although this is not common. The second is believed but not 100% confirmed by researchers: touching a contaminated surface and then touching one’s nose or mouth. The third is also speculated: eating food that has been contaminated. After infection, the virus then causes lung congestion and fluid accumulation that can lead to death in about 38% of people.
Before HPS onset, minor illness from a Hantavirus may begin 5 to 42 days after infection and may include:
- Head, abdominal and muscle aches
More serious symptoms indicating HPS may arrive after 10 days of initial illness and may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing (from fluid accumulation in the lungs)
Although Hantaviruses have been recorded across the world (the first being discovered in Korea) the only Hantaviruses found in the U.S are not contagious and only cause minor infections to HPS, not HFRS. As of 2016, 690 cases of HPS have been recorded, 659 of which from 1993 onward. The majority of cases reported occur in states west of the Mississippi River.
Species of Concern
- Deer mouse: throughout nearly all of America; primarily woodlands
- Cotton rat: southeastern, central and southern America; shrublands and tall grasslands
- Rice rat: southeastern and southcentral America; marshy/wetland areas
- White-footed mouse: north and mideastern, central and southwestern America; wooded and brushy areas
The best way to avoid Hantavirus infection is to avoid close contact with rodents and deny them access to buildings. Keeping all food products stored in tight containers with sturdy garbage containers, mowing tall grasses, placing all gardens or other shelter areas away from the building, and sealing the building are all effective ways to avoid rodent infestation. If an infestation has occurred, several options are possible to safely exterminate the rodents. First, be sure that all of the proper preventative measures are followed. Then, a professional exterminator can be called or one can manage the problem themselves using snap traps, rodenticide that is environmentally safe and used according to specific directions and disinfecting contaminated surfaces with diluted bleach or phenol-containing disinfectants (i.e Lysol). Do not sweep or vacuum before disinfecting so the virus is not allowed to go airborne. Wear rubber gloves and a mask/respirator while managing the contamination to avoid infection.
Contracting HPS may be relatively uncommon, but a mild infection of Hantaviruses are fairly easy to contract. This virus is found internationally and is widespread throughout the U.S. While the likelihood of the disease developing into HPS is low, 38% of people with HPS die. There is no vaccine for the Hantavirus, making an easily contracted contaminant that could result in severe sickness or fatality. A species like the deer mouse has incredible range over the whole of the U.S and into Mexico and other species of host rodents could become invasive in the U.S. This means there is a small but existing chance of contagious versions of HPS or even HFRS becoming a new threat to the U.S. Awareness and proper management of rodent infestations can help one avoid a Hantavirus infection and prevent spreading.
IDPH. (n.d.). Hantaviruses. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from http://www.dph.illinois.gov/topics-services/diseases-and-conditions/diseases-a-z-list/hantavirus
CDC. (2017, April 06). Hantavirus. Retrieved April 21, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/index.html
Davis, C. P., MD. (2015, October 22). Hantavirus Symptoms, History, Transmission & Treatment (M. C. Stoppler MD, Ed.). Retrieved April 21, 2017, from http://www.medicinenet.com/hantavirus_pulmonary_syndrome/article.htm