Hantavirus Safety Tips

It’s that time of the year again: spring cleaning!

As you start to clean out your homes, cabin, campers, sheds, and garages, be mindful of the risk of hantavirus.

Hantavirus—or hantavirus pulmonary syndrome—is a rare but very serious lung disease transmitted by infected rodents through their urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting materials. Humans can contract the disease by breathing in aerosolized (stirred up into the air) virus near these contaminants. People can also become infected after touching mouse droppings or nesting materials that contain the virus and then touching their eyes, noses, or mouths.

Here in the western United States, deer mice are the main carriers of hantavirus.

What does the deer mouse look like?

The deer mouse is about 6 inches long from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail. It is grayish to light brown on top, with large ears, a white belly, and a furry tail that is white on the underside. There are many other types of mice in Montana without these features.

How do I prevent hantavirus pulmonary syndrome?

Keep rodents out of your home and workplace. Always take precautions in rodent-infested areas.

In buildings, seal up cracks and gaps that are larger than 1/4 inch: check window- and door-sills, under sinks around the pipes, foundations, attics, and any other possible means of rodent entry. Trap indoor rats and mice with snap traps, and remove rodent food sources. Keep food (including pet food) in rodent-proof containers.

How to clean up a contaminated site in your home

If you find a nest or other rodent material (dead mice, droppings, etc.), do NOT stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means. Remember, you can get hantavirus by inhaling it.

Instead, thoroughly wet contaminated areas, droppings, and nests with a 10% bleach solution: mix 1.5 cups of household bleach in 1 gallon of water (1 part bleach to 9 parts water). Once everything has soaked for 10 minutes, remove all the nest material, mice, or droppings with a damp towel and then mop or sponge the area with bleach solution.

For more details on how to clean up a rodent-infested area, see recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, when deer mice are a concern, do not cross-ventilate the area being cleaned until surfaces have been wet with the bleach solution, as described above.

Symptoms of hantavirus

Early symptoms of hantavirus include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal.

Infected people may also experience headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems (such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain). About half of all hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) patients experience these symptoms.

Four to ten days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms of HPS appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with a chest tightening sensation.

For more information on hantavirus…