Hantavirus – Rare and Deadly

29 03 2010

Spring is here! Time to clean, to sweep, perchance to dust far corners.

But wait, are those rodent droppings? Does that look like a little critter’s nest inside your box of outdoor tools?

Those droppings may be perfectly harmless, or they may be full of hantaviruses.

The hantavirus is carried in the droppings, urine and saliva of various rodents.

The virus is transmitted by breathing in stirred-up dust and debris infected with the virus. It’s also transmitted by direct contact with rodent debris through small cuts in the skin.

The hantavirus is responsible for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Although only 20 to 40 cases are reported to the CDC per year, HPS is serious and can result in death. Initial symptoms include fever, fatigue and muscle aches. Other symptoms may include headaches, stomach problems, dizziness and chills. Symptoms can escalate and include shortness of breath and coughing.

The sooner you’re diagnosed, the better. It’s a serious infection and, as reported by NIH,  “Even with aggressive treatment, more than half of the cases are fatal.”

The hantavirus is found mainly in the southwestern part of the U.S., although cases have been reported in all the western states and many of the eastern states.

So, how can you prevent hantavirus infection?  The CDC says “Seal up! Trap Up! Clean Up!”.

Look around your home or work place and be sure all food, including pet food, is placed in tightly-sealed containers. Clean up food spills as soon as they happen. Eliminate food and nesting sources close to your home or place of work.

Do you currently have an infestation of rodents in your home? Check for entryways around your home, and seal any holes to keep rodents out. Continue to trap rodents until a week passes without catching new rodents. This allows for enough time to pass to ensure that the hantavirus is no longer infectious.

Finally, glove-up and carefully begin cleaning, following at least 30 minutes of ventilation of the area. You can wear a dust mask to protect against floating debris or dust, but it won’t protect you against viruses, so spray affected items and the area with diluted bleach to disinfect and help ensure the matter won’t become airborne when you clean.

Whatever you do, try not to stir up the dust that may hold the hantavirus! Don’t sweep. Carefully pick up and dispose of moistened rodent droppings and other evidence in garbage bags and then seal them.

For more information on how to safely tackle rodent debris, read all that the CDC has to say.