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|CDC - Fact sheet|
|Canadian fact sheet|
Caused by: A virus.
Most common way people catch it: Cleaning, working, or living in area that was infested by rodents.
Worst-case scenario: Death.
How common in the Northeast? Fairly uncommon.
Most vulnerable groups: People in close contact with rodent nesting areas (such as those whose homes are infested, agricultural workers, NWCOs, and people who clean out buildings that are only used seasonally).
There are several hantaviruses that cause a respiratory disease in people. The disease, called "Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome," was first officially recognized in the U.S. in 1993, but it's not new. Medical records confirmed a 1959 case, and much earlier, Navajos identified a similar disease that might have been hantavirus. So far, it's fairly uncommon and the chances of becoming infected are low. But it's potentially deadly.
The first signs of sickness, especially fever and muscle aches, appear 1 to 5 weeks after exposure, followed by shortness of breath and coughing. Once this phase begins, the disease progresses rapidly and hospitalization is often needed within 24 hours.
The hantavirus strain present in the Northeast (called "New York-1") is spread by wild mice, specifically the deer mouse, Permoyscus maniculatus, and the white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus. Both may invade homes. (Rodents that spread other hantavirus strains in other areas include the rice rat and the cotton rat.)
Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. The virus can then become airborne, and people catch it by breathing in these microscopic particles. It's also possible, although less common, for someone to catch the disease from the bite of an infected rodent. If you touch an object that's contaminated with rodent urine, droppings, or saliva and then touch an open wound or your eyes, you could also become infected. It may be possible to catch the disease by eating food or drinking water that's been contaminated by mice.
Hantavirus is not transmitted from person to person in the U.S.
NWCOs are in a higher risk category than many other people because they frequently enter areas that are infested by mice, such as crawl spaces and attics. They're more likely to disturb the materials that contain the virus, too. Other hot spots for the disease include buildings that are only used seasonally. When people open up cabins, sheds, barns, garages, or storage facilities for farm and construction equipment, they are likely to encounter rodent infestations. Rodents also infest homes, and sometimes people are unaware of their presence. Sharing a home with rodents puts the residents at higher risk for this disease.
Rodents catch hantaviruses by touching other rodents. Transmission is probably associated with fighting. Rodents are a vector; there's little evidence that they suffer from the disease. No other animals are known to have a direct role in the transmission of hantaviruses.
Patients receive supportive treatment, often in the intensive care unit, and antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
Ventilate the area before entering, if possible. This is particularly important if the building has been closed for a while, such as a seasonal cabin.
Wear rubber gloves and a proper respirator while handling traps containing rodents or cleaning up their droppings, urine, or nest materials. Avoid stirring up dust because it may contain hantavirus. Wet contaminated materials with a 10% bleach solution or household disinfectant. Let this soak in, then wipe up with a damp towel or sponge. Mop or sponge the area with disinfectant. Double-bag for disposal. (Any dead rodents should also be sprayed with disinfectant, then double-bagged for disposal). Disinfect your gear and traps following standard guidelines.
Next disease (Mange)
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