Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a severe and potentially fatal respiratory disease. It’s spread by infected rodents. Hantavirus exposure is most common in the western United States, with the highest number of cases found in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California, and Washington state. Understanding transmission of the hantavirus can help you minimize your risk of exposure.

What Rodents Carry the Hantavirus?

Deer mouse carrying the hantavirus

In North America, the hantavirus is most commonly carried by the deer mouse. This mouse carries the Sin Nombre hantavirus, which is responsible for most cases of the disease in the United States and Canada. The white-footed mouse carries the New York hantavirus, while the cotton rat carries the Black Creek hantavirus, and the rice rat carries the Bayou virus strain.

Do House Mice Carry the Hantavirus?

Not all rodents carry the hantavirus, even among those species that can be carriers.   Roof rats and Norway rats have not been associated with the disease either. However, since it can be difficult to identify the exact species associated with a rodent infestation, it’s best to seek professional help from an exterminator and take precautions to avoid contact with these creatures and their messes.

How Do You Get the Hantavirus?

The hantavirus is spread through contact with rodent droppings, urine, or saliva. These can become airborne when dust is stirred up in an area where infected rodents were present. In this way, you may unknowingly inhale contaminants that contain the hantavirus. You can also contract the virus through a rodent bite or by consuming contaminated food. If you touch infected rodent droppings, urine, or nesting material and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, you may contract the disease.

Can You Transmit the Hantavirus From Person to Person?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome has never been passed from person to person in North American cases. You shouldn’t have to worry about contracting it from having contact with another person who has the virus. However, if someone close to you has the hantavirus, you should be particularly cautious about any symptoms that you exhibit, as you may have been exposed to the same contaminants.

What Activities Put Me at Risk of Contracting Hantavirus?

Individuals who perform certain activities are at a higher risk for contracting hantavirus. If you work with rodents in any capacity, you should be aware of this disease. Other activities that put you at a higher risk for contacting infected materials include:

  • Sweeping out barns
  • Cleaning sawmill waste with compressed air
  • Working with field crops
  • Cleaning up vacant buildings
  • Cleaning sheds or cabins, particularly when they’ve been unoccupied
  • Handling grain that may be contaminated

You can reduce your risk of exposure by wearing plastic gloves, goggles, and a respirator during these types of high-risk activities.

Early signs and symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary symptom can look like the flu. You may experience fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. As the disease progresses, you’ll experience severe respiratory symptoms. If you suspect that you may have been exposed to the hantavirus, seek medical attention at the first sign of any of these symptoms.