Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a serious and potentially fatal disease. From 1993 to January 2017, there were nearly 700 cases of confirmed hantavirus in the United States occurring in 36 states, according to the CDC. Thirty-six percent of these cases resulted in death. Over 96 percent of Hantavirus cases were west of the Mississippi. Many people who contract the virus can’t determine where they picked it up, so it’s important to be mindful of how hantavirus manifests.

What is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?

About Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a serious respiratory disease caused by hantaviruses. This infectious disease progresses rapidly and can be life-threatening. There’s no set course of treatment for a hantavirus infection, but individuals who are admitted to an intensive care unit early have the best chance of recovery. Intubation, mechanical ventilation, and blood oxygenation can assist with the severe respiratory symptoms associated with the disease. While you should be aware of the signs and symptoms of hantavirus, it’s best to focus on preventive efforts that will halt the spread of this disease.

How is Hantavirus Transmitted?

Hantavirus is transmitted by infected rodents and each strain of hantavirus has a preferred carrier. In North America, the virus is most commonly spread by the deer mouse. Deer mice are found throughout the United States, but typically prefer woodland areas. The cotton rat, rice rat, and white-tailed mouse are other known carriers. Individuals who come into contact with the droppings, urine, or saliva from infected rodents can contract the virus. The strain of hantavirus found in North America cannot be transmitted from one person to another. However, infectious cases have been found in South America.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Hantavirus?

In the early stages, hantavirus presents much like the flu. Symptoms include muscle aches, fever, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Serious respiratory symptoms follow the onset of the illness, typically occurring about four to 10 days later. These include shortness of breath and coughing. The lungs begin to fill with fluid, making it difficult for the individual to breathe. HPS is fatal in 36 percent of cases.

Man wiht hantavirus pulmonary sysndromeImage via Flickr by William Brawley

How Can I Prevent Hantavirus?

People often contract hantavirus after coming into contact with rodent droppings. If you have a known rodent infestation in your home or workplace, it’s important to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Your first line of defense is to reduce or eliminate the rodent population on your property. If you feel you have a rodent problem on your property, hiring a professional pest control service may be your best move. You can prevent future infestations by sealing any access points that are 1/4-inch wide or larger. Keep food stored in sealed containers and clean up anything that rodents may use as nesting material, such as brush.

When cleaning up after a rodent infestation, wear a respirator so you can’t inhale dust from the droppings or urine. Dampen any area where the rodents were present with bleach, alcohol, or another disinfectant to kill the virus before cleaning up droppings and other contaminated material. Wipe the surface down with your disinfectant again once the area is clear.

Understanding HPS can help you protect yourself from the disease in cases where a rodent infestation is identified. Knowing what symptoms to look for is also helpful in the rare instances where individuals do contract HPS in the United States. Seek prompt treatment if you suspect hantavirus is behind your symptoms.