Hantavirus is a disease spread by rodents that is similar to the flu.
Hantavirus has probably caused people to get sick for years in the United States, but it was not recognized until recently.
In 1993 there was an outbreak of fatal respiratory illness on an Indian reservation at the border of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Researchers discovered that hantavirus caused the epidemic. Since that discovery, hantavirus disease has been reported in every western state, and in many eastern states.
Hantavirus is carried by rodents, especially deer mice. The virus is in their urine and feces, but it does not make the carrier animal sick. Humans are thought to become infected when they are exposed to contaminated dust from mice nests or droppings.
The disease is not passed between humans. People may encounter contaminated dust when cleaning long-empty homes, sheds, or other enclosed areas.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that rodents carrying hantavirus have been found in at least twenty national parks. The CDC says it is possible that the virus is in all of the parks.
The CDC suspects that campers and hikers may be more likely to catch the disease than most people. This is because they pitch tents on the forest floor and lay their sleeping bags down in musty cabins.
So far, however, only a couple of cases have been directly linked to camping or hiking. Most people who are exposed to the virus have come in contact with rodent droppings in their own homes.
The early symptoms of hantavirus disease are flu-like (fever, chills, muscle aches). For a very short period of time, the infected person starts to feel better. Then, within 1 - 2 days, the person may develop shortness of breath. The disease gets worse quickly and leads to respiratory failure.
Other symptoms may include:
A doctor may notice signs of:
An effective treatment for hantavirus infection involving the lungs is not yet available.
Hantavirus hemorrhagic fever that involves the kidneys (with renal syndrome) does respond to treatment with ribavirin given through a vein (intravenously). This medication shortens the illness and reduces the risk of death.
Treatment must be given in the hospital. Often patients are admitted to an intensive care unit.
Oxygen therapy is used. Blood gases are closely monitored. Severe cases will need respiratory support with a breathing tube (endotracheal tube) and ventilator.
Hantavirus is a serious infection. Even with aggressive treatment, more than half of the cases are fatal.
Call your health care provider if you develop flu-like symptoms after being exposed to mouse urine or feces (excreta), or dust that may have been contaminated with mouse excreta.
Avoid exposure to rodent urine and feces.
If you must work in an area where contact with rodent urine and feces is possible, follow these recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome; Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome