Hantavirus: 4 Ways to Get It

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4 Ways You Can Get Hantavirus

Deer mice are the most common carriers of hantavirus.

by James Hubbard, MD, MPH

Hantavirus has been in the news lately. Several have died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, with as many as ten thousand thought to have been exposed while staying in Yosemite National Park this summer. Rats and mice give it to you, so it’s one of those diseases that’s sure to get more prevalent in any long-term disaster.

Hantavirus was officially discovered after a 1993 outbreak in Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. It’s been around much longer but we just didn’t know what caused it.

That year 48 cases were reported. Since then there have been anywhere from 20 to 46 cases per year. Most are in the Western states, but there have been a few in the Midwest and Northeast, with one in Florida. Since the deer mouse is one of hantavirus’s major carriers, and is found all over the place, hantavirus is a risk anywhere.

How You Catch Hantavirus
What Carries Hantavirus?

The virus is carried by certain types of mice and rats. The deer mouse is the most common. It’s estimated that about 17 percent of deer mice in California carry hantavirus.

It takes one to five weeks after exposure to start getting sick. The symptoms are severe aching and fever, followed by trouble breathing. Fluid gets in the lungs. Since it’s a virus there is no treatment other than support. Many end up on a ventilator. An average of four out of 10 die. So avoidance is key.

Hantavirus doesn’t spread from person to person. As far as we know, you only get it from mice and rats if:

  1. The infected rodent bites you.
  2. You inhale the virus from fresh feces, urine, or saliva.
  3. You touch the feces, urine, or saliva and then touch your nose or mouth.
  4. You eat foods contaminated with rodent feces, urine, or saliva.
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Hantavirus Prevention

Of course do the usual things to keep rodents out of the house, like seal up cracks and holes, and keep human and animal food in sealed containers. The CDC recommends setting snap-like traps. Catching the rodents in a glue or live trap scares the animal, often causing it to urinate and spread the virus.

If you need to get rid of a dead mouse or rat, spray it first with a 10 percent chlorine solution (one part chlorine bleach to 10 parts water). Wait five minutes, and pick up the rodent with a paper towel or plastic or something else to keep your hands from touching it. Place it in a plastic garbage bag and seal.

If you’re cleaning up a storage area, shed, barn, basement, or any place rodents may have been nesting, put on an N95 mask if you have it (a simple mask available at pharmacies and hardware stores), and make sure it has a good seal around your mouth and nose. Use vinyl or latex gloves. Spray the area well with the bleach solution. After cleanup, throw away the mask, spray your gloves if you’re going to keep them, and wash your hands and clothes.

At this point, the odds of getting hantavirus are pretty low. But there are literally dozens of other illnesses you can get directly or indirectly from rodents. Getting in the habit of a little prevention is always a good thing.

Have any of you, or has someone you knew, ever caught a disease from an animal? And what do you do to keep the rodents away?

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Photo: CDC/James Gathany

  • shelly

    I am in Virginia and last year my uncle was so ill and docs thought he had hanta virus. Turns out it wasnt that, or cancer or any other near death disease…he did have a nasty drug resistant infection though, from constantly cleaning up pigeon poop off the roof at his work.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Was it histoplasmosis?

  • James

    When you or James are working cleaning out houses or backyards sheds etc. follow these directions. Hanta can kill you.

  • Pingback: Hantavirus | Hostile Hare

  • Tracy

    I was stationed with the Army at Fort Carson, CO from 1993 to 1995 for that period’s Hantavirus outbreak. The Army’s solution to the Hantavirus was that at no time were we to sleep on the ground (and were more than willing to give out Article 15′s if you did) and had gone on an ordering binge of cots. Their reasoning was that if you were not sleeping on the ground, you would not be having mice crawl on you and your face wouldn’t be on the ground to breath in the mouse poo. If for some reason that we were unable to set up the cots, we were required to sleep inside our vehicles. I would recommend that even if you have a tent with a “floor” that you still sleep on a cot because you could still transfer the virus into the tent on your shoes or other equipment.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Great tips, Tracy. Thanks.

  • Matt in Oklahoma

    Great Stuff!

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Matt.

    • Trish

      I had not heard about it in the past few decades.

      • Trish

        Other than the recent news about it….

  • Trish

    This is a very scary thing to suddenly come up after not hearing about it for the past few decades. I immediately checked and found out that vitamin therapy might be what is needed in a situation involving this virus. I was reading up on something posted by a(I guess you could say “colleague”)contemporary. Let me know if you’d like a specific link. P.S. I ALWAYS wash the tops of canned goods if I use them and never let the food I eat touch the outside of the package it comes in because I have such an aversion to rodents. I keep plenty of vitamin C stocked up also, just in case.

    • Trish

      PS again….I give this article 10 thumbs up.

      • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

        Thanks, Trish. Actually there are several cases per year, mostly in the western states. Usually from camping. The thing about Yosemite is, because it is so popular, many camped in the tents or cabins that were found to be contaminated.

  • http://www.hawkeshealth.net Islander

    If you buy canned goods, it’s always a good idea to wash the top before puncturing the can to open it. Rodents inhabit warehouses and storage areas, and their dust can contaminate the tops of cans.

    • http://www.thesurvivaldoctor.com James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

      Thanks, Islander. Good idea