Hantavirus can cause a potentially fatal lung disease in humans. These viruses are found all over the United States and can live for a short period of time in the environment. Hantavirus can be found in areas where wild rodents are seen. Illness can be prevented in humans if you know what to look for and how to prevent the spread of hantavirus.
What is it?
Hantavirus is a type of virus. It causes what is known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in humans. According to the Washington State Department of Health, the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome include aches and pains, fever, vomiting and extreme tiredness, eventually leading to extreme shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid. Hantavirus causes serious illness with a death rate of about 1 in 3. Treatment should be sought immediately if you suspect you may have been infected with hantavirus and begin to develop symptoms. There is no specific treatment or cure for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and treatment is based on managing symptoms to reduce severity of illness.
Where is it found?
Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents. It isn't just one virus, but actually a group of viruses. In the United States, the most common carrier is the deer mouse. Hantavirus is found in deer mouse urine and feces and areas where the waste accumulates. In the State of Washington, it is estimated that 14 percent of deer mice carry hantavirus, although they may not even appear to be sick. Even though the deer mouse is the most common carrier of hantavirus, it is best to avoid all wild rodents and clean up all nesting areas as soon as they are noticed.
How is it spread?
Hantavirus is spread through the air when areas containing infected rodent urine and feces are disturbed. It is advisable to wear a mask when cleaning up rodent nesting areas to avoid breathing in possible hantavirus in disturbed dust. When cleaning up, try to avoid disturbing the waste too much to keep the virus from spreading into the air. Also, a bleach solution of at least 10 percent should be used to clean any infested areas.
Can it spread from human to human?
Hantavirus has not spread from human to human. Though it is airborne, it only affects humans when breathing in directly from a rodent waste area. So far as is known, hantavirus cannot spread to humans from other animals either.
How long does hantavirus live in the environment?
How long hantavirus can remain in the environment is dependent on factors such as temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions. Even what the rodents eat could affect how long the hantavirus can remain alive in excretions. According to the Washington State Department of Health, in an average room temperature environment, hantavirus can live for about two to three days. Exposure to sunlight shortens the lifespan of this virus, but freezing temperatures can actually extend the lifespan. It's best to err on the side of caution and treat all wild rodent waste areas as if they are infectious.