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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a serious respiratory disease caused by a virus (hantavirus). Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice, and is present in their droppings (feces), urine and saliva. These dried droppings or urine can be stirred up in dust and breathed in by people.
People may get hantavirus when they breathe in air contaminated by the virus. Hantavirus has not been shown to infect other kinds of animals, such as dogs, cats or farm animals. The disease is not contagious and does not spread from human to human.
The incubation period (time between exposure and appearance of symptoms) varies widely, but ranges from one to six weeks, with an average of two to three weeks. Hantavirus has been shown deadly in nearly half of its cases.
Initially, there are no respiratory symptoms present. Symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion and a cough that produces phlegm are not associated with hantavirus infection. However, within one to five days, the illness quickly progresses to respiratory distress, including a dry cough and difficulty breathing caused by the lungs filling with fluid.
Because no effective treatment exists for the disease, prevention is emphasized as the key to avoiding hantavirus. "When hantavirus infection is suspected or confirmed, early admission to a hospital where careful monitoring, treatment of symptoms and supportive therapy can be provided is most important," said John Pape, a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment epidemiologist who specializes in animal-related diseases. "If you become ill with these symptoms, it is important to tell your physician about possible exposures to deer mice or rodent-infested environments."
The best way to prevent the risk of hantavirus infection is to control the presence of rodents in and around the home. See our Preventing Animal-Borne Disease brochure for more information.
Because hantavirus is often encountered when cleaning vacated sheds, cabins or other enclosed areas, it is important to clean out areas where rodents have been very carefully. Areas should not be swept or vacuumed as this can stir up dust. Instead, use gloves and thoroughly wet contaminated areas with a bleach solution or household disinfectant.
Once wet, contaminated materials can be taken up with damp towel and then mopped or sponged with bleach solution or household disinfectant. Contaminated gloves should be disinfected before taking them off. After taking off the clean gloves, wash hands with soap and warm water.
Deer mice are brown on top and white underneath. They have large ears relative to their head size. House mice on the other hand are all gray and have small ears. These small, gray house mice commonly found in urban areas do not carry the disease.
For more information, contact Dave Volkel, Environmental Health Services, Zoonosis Program, at 303-271-5730 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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