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Diseases A–Z

Hantavirus

Cause | Symptoms | Treatment | Who's at risk | Reduce your risk

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rare, but serious lung disease spread by deer mice and other wild rodents. Hantavirus is found in the saliva, urine and droppings of infected rodents.

What causes hantavirus?

People can get hantavirus when they breathe in tiny particles of fresh saliva, urine, droppings or nesting materials that are infected with the virus. For example, you could get hantavirus if you sweep out a garage that has infected mice nesting in it. Sweeping stirs up the tiny particles of the infected droppings, urine or saliva, and makes them float in the air. When you breathe in these tiny infected particles the virus enters your lungs and you could get sick.

Can you catch hantavirus from another person?

No. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is not spread from person to person. You can't catch it by touching or being around someone who has it.

Signs and symptoms of hantavirus

Early symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome are similar to the flu. Symptoms usually appear about two to three weeks after being exposed to the virus. These early symptoms include:

  • fever
  • muscle aches (especially in large muscles like the thighs, hips, back and shoulders)
  • feeling very tired

Some people may also feel dizzy, get headaches and have stomach pain, diarrhea and/or vomiting.

In the later stage of the disease (four to 10 days after the first symptoms start), you may have more serious symptoms:

  • difficulty breathing
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
How is hantavirus diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose hantavirus pulmonary syndrome by reviewing your symptoms and finding out whether you have been around rodents in the last 45 days. Your blood and sputum (phlegm) may be tested for the virus.

Treatment for hantavirus

The earlier hantavirus infection is treated, the better the chances are for recovery.

The disease can become life-threatening within a few days of early symptoms, so it's very important to get medical treatment right away. Patients are usually admitted to hospital and given oxygen to help them breathe.

What else do I need to know?

Know the symptoms of hantavirus infection. Call your doctor right away if you develop breathing problems, fever and muscle aches within 45 days of being exposed to rodents. The earlier you get medical help, the better your chances of recovery.

Who is at risk for hantavirus infection?

People who are often near places where rodents live have a higher risk of infection. This includes:

  • people who live in houses, cottages or camps where rodents are living
  • campers, hikers and outdoor lovers who often visit areas with rodents
  • people who clean barns, sheds/outbuildings or other grain storage areas where rodents are likely to live
  • electricians, plumbers, home inspectors or others who work in crawl spaces
  • pest control workers, wildlife researchers or other people who handle wild rodents
How can you reduce your risk of catching hantavirus?

1. The first step in reducing your risk of hantavirus infection is to prevent rodents from getting into the places where you live, work and play: your home, cottage, campsite and workplace. To keep rodents out:

  • seal holes, cracks and gaps in your home and garage
  • place traps in and around your home
  • remove easy food sources for rodents — pet foods, garbage

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers detailed information for preventing hantavirus infection in all kinds of situations and explains in detail how to clean up areas where you have found rodents or their droppings.

2. Carefully clean up rodent nests or places where rodents have lived:

  • If possible, open the doors and windows before you start cleaning.
  • Always wear rubber gloves, a HEPA filter mask, protective goggles, and clothing and footwear that can be disinfected (rubber boots and coveralls).
  • Disinfect mouse traps, dead rodents, floors and surroundings with household bleach and water mixed to a ratio of 1:10. (e.g. 250 ml. bleach to 2.5 litres of water).
  • Don't sweep or vacuum droppings because this can cause dust which can then be breathed in.

Get detailed information on how to clean up rodent traps, nests and droppings from the government of New Brunswick.

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