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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Certain types of rodents carry a group of viruses that can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). These rodents include the deer mouse, the white-footed mouse, and rats. Not every one of these rodents carries the virus but these are the rodents that are capable of carrying it. Without the knowledge, it is difficult to tell one mouse or rat from another mouse or rat, it is difficult to tell which rodents are infected with the viruses, so it is best to avoid contact with wild rodents.

Who is at risk?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rare rodent disease but there have been cases reported throughout the contiguous United States. Hawaii and Alaska are the only places that have no reported cases of the syndrome. It is possible for anyone to catch the disease. It is not necessary for a person to have a compromised immune system or any of the usually at-risk circumstances. Perfectly healthy people have been known to contract this syndrome.

What are the symptoms?

There is an incubation period and it can take anywhere from 1 to weeks for the symptoms to arise after infection. The first set of symptoms will include fever, muscle aches, and fatigue and they can progress after that. As the symptoms get worse, an infected person can have difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

How do people contract Hantavirus?

HPS has never been passed from person to person. This virus is in the droppings, urine, and nesting materials of the infected rodents. People can contract the virus by inhaling it when the droppings, urine, or nesting materials are disturbed, and the virus is airborne. It is also possible for people to contract the syndrome by touching the droppings, urine, and nesting materials and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

There are certain activities that people do that will give them an increased chance of getting sick. These activities are going to put a person in an area where there are droppings, urine, and nesting materials. Activities like cleaning an area that has been closed up for a while (like a shed, attic, or cabin), working in areas where rodents are a frequent problem, or not taking the proper safety precautions when cleaning up after these rodents.

How can people prevent infection?

There are certain precautions that people should take to make sure that they do not have to deal with a hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The best way to prevent this is to keep mice and rats out of the house, but this is not always possible. If there is evidence that rodents have made their way in, their droppings, urine, and mess need to be cleaned up properly. It is important to note that sweeping the mess or vacuuming it will cause the virus to become airborne, so the best course of action will be to pick things up with paper towels. Gloves and masks should be worn so that the virus doesn’t come into contact with the skin and it is not inhaled. The area will also need to be properly disinfected with either a disinfectant cleaner or a bleach and water mixture.

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