Hantavirus can cause a rare, but deadly, disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). A local woman in her 50’s is currently hospitalized with symptoms consistent with HPS. In February, an Issaquah man in his 30’s contracted hantavirus and subsequently died. Public Health – Seattle & King County is raising awareness about steps you can take to reduce the risk of contracting hantavirus wherever deer mice are common. Deer mice do not live in urban settings in Washington, but prefer woodland areas such as the suburban foothills. There are currently reports of increased numbers of deer mice in the Issaquah area. Deer mice have distinctive white underbellies and white sides.
How is hantavirus contracted?
- Breathing in hantavirus – this can happen when dust from dried rodent urine, saliva and droppings that contain hantavirus are stirred up in the air.
- Touching hantavirus – people can get infected by touching rodent urine, droppings, or nesting materials that contain the virus and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Rodent bite.
The disease does not spread from person-to-person.
Signs and symptoms of HPS
- Symptoms begin 1-8 weeks after inhaling the virus.
- Individuals typically experience 3-5 days at the start of their illness with symptoms similar to the flu including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
- As the disease worsens, it causes coughing and shortness of breath as fluid fills the lungs.
Anyone who has had exposure to rodent nests or areas where rodents are living and who develops symptoms should see a healthcare provider promptly.
Additional advice for people concerned about hantavirus
The chance of being exposed to hantavirus is greatest when people work, play, or live in closed spaces where rodents are actively living. If you live in an area where deer mice are known to live, take precautions to prevent rodent infestations even if you do not see rodents or their droppings.
Potential risk activities for HPS include:
- Opening or cleaning previously unused buildings, cabins, sheds, barns, garages, and storage facilities (including those that have been closed during the winter).
- Housecleaning activities in and around homes with rodent infestations (guidance for cleaning up rodent nest and infected areas visit Cleaning and Rodents).
- Work-related exposure: Construction, utility, and pest control workers when working in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population.
- Campers and hikers: Campers and hikers can be exposed if they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats.
- Exposure to cars, trailers, or mobile homes where rodents are living (guidance for cleaning vehicles visit The CDC Communicable Diseases).
Some people may prefer to consult with a pest control agency to help with rodents in the home or other structures. Public Health should be consulted and special precautions are indicated for cleaning homes or buildings with heavy rodent infestations (piles of feces, numerous nests, or dead rodents), vacant dwellings that have attracted rodents while unoccupied, or dwellings and other structures that have been occupied by persons with confirmed hantavirus infection. Public Health recommends hiring professional pest control services in these situations.
For more about HPS, please visit King County Department of Health.
For updates on new and suspected cases, please visit Public Health Insider.