North Dakota Health and Human Services (HHS) is encouraging the public to take steps to protect against hantavirus disease. As the weather begins to warm, many people will be cleaning cabins, sheds and other outdoor buildings that have been closed for the winter. These are places that exposure to hantavirus is more likely to occur.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a viral infection that can cause severe lung disease, including pneumonia. Infected rodents spread the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus is transmitted when someone breathes in air contaminated by the virus, and on rare occasions, it can be transmitted by the bite of an infected rodent, such as the deer mouse.
“People can be exposed to hantavirus when inhaling dust while cleaning or occupying previously vacant cabins, sheds or other dwellings and outbuildings that contain rodents, rodent droppings and rodent nests,” said Levi Schlosser, an epidemiologist with HHS’ Infectious Diseases and Epidemiology Unit. “Currently, only supportive treatment exists for hantavirus disease, so it is important to be wary of rodent infestations to properly prevent infection.”
HHS offers the following tips to avoid hantavirus infection when cleaning a building with signs of rodent infestation:
- Ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows for 30 minutes before you start cleaning.
- Wear gloves and use disinfectant when cleaning up dead rodents or their urine, droppings and nests.
- Saturate the material with disinfectant for at least five minutes before removal.
- Mop floors and clean countertops, cabinets and drawers with disinfectant.
- Use a commercial disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and follow the label instructions or use a bleach solution made with one part bleach and ten parts water.
- Do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials.
- Do not let children play in crawl spaces or vacant buildings where rodents may be present.
Symptoms of HPS usually begin two to three weeks after infection. Early symptoms commonly include fever, muscle and body aches, fatigue, headache, dizziness, chills, nausea and vomiting. Within a short period of time, symptoms can worsen to include coughing and shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid. People with HPS are typically hospitalized.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 19 cases of HPS have been reported to HHS since 1993, when the virus was first recognized in the United States. Nine of the 19 reported cases were fatal. Nationally, 850 cases were reported through December 2021, with 35% resulting in death. More information from the CDC is available here.