Avoiding Hantavirus

Some friends of mine recently had some problems with rats getting into some food they had stored in Mylar bags inside cardboard boxes.  They lost a portion of their storage and had a mess to clean up.  With the recent deaths in Yosemite from the hantavirus, this is a bit scary.

In a grid down situation rats and mice could become much more of a problem.  Now they don’t all carry hantavirus, but you only need to encounter the wrong one.  So I have gleaned some information of various government websites about how to avoid it. In the future  with the help of a friend who is an exterminator I will post an article on eliminating rodents.


What are hantaviruses?

Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that may be carried by some rodents. Some hantaviruses can cause a rare but deadly disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The disease is called HPS for short.

What animals can give people hantaviruses?

Only some kinds of mice and rats can give people hantaviruses that cause HPS. In North America, they are the deer mouse, the white-footed mouse, the rice rat, and the cotton rat. However, not every deer mouse, white-footed mouse, rice rat, or cotton rat carries a hantavirus. Other rodents, such as house mice, roof rats, and Norway rats, have never been known to give people HPS. Since it is hard to tell if a mouse or a rat carries a hantavirus, it is best to avoid all wild mice and rats and to safely clean up any rodent urine, droppings, or nests in your home. Dogs and cats cannot give people hantavirus infections.

Who can get HPS?

.Any man, woman, or child who is around mice or rats that carry harmful hantaviruses can get HPS. You do not have to already be sick to be at risk for HPS. Healthy people have become ill with HPS. While HPS is a very rare disease, cases have occurred in all regions of the United States except for Alaska and Hawaii

People get HPS when they breath in hantaviruses. This can happen when rodent urine and droppings that contain a hantavirus are stirred up into the air. People can also become infected when they touch mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nesting materials that contain the virus and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth. They can also get HPS from a mouse or rat bite.

Here are some activities that can put people at risk for HPS:


Improperly cleaning up mouse and rat urine, droppings, and nests.


Cleaning a shed or cabin that has been closed for some time.


Working in areas where mice and rats may live (such as barns).


What are the symptoms of HPS?

If people get HPS, they will feel sick 1 to 5 weeks after they were around mice or rats that carried a hantavirus. At first people with HPS will have:




Severe muscle aches



After a few days they will have a hard time breathing. Sometimes people will have headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Usually, people do not have a runny nose, sore throat, or a rash.

How can HPS be prevented?


Keep mice and rats out of your home.


Clean up mouse and rat urine, droppings, and nesting materials with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water.

Use either of these when cleaning up after mice and rats:

General-purpose household disinfectant. Make sure the word “disinfectant” is written on the label.


Bleach and water solution. Mix 1 1/2 cups of household bleach with 1 gallon of water. Smaller amounts can be made with 1 part bleach and 9 parts water.

Clean-up tip:

Do not sweep or vacuum up mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nests. This will cause virus particles to go into the air, where  they can be breathed in.


Rodents in the United States that Carry Hantavirus

Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)

deer mouseThe Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is a deceptively cute animal, with big eyes and ears. Its head and body measure approximately 2-3 inches (5cm – 7.5cm) in length, and the tail adds another 2 – 3 inches. In color, the deer mouse ranges from grey to reddish brown, depending on age. The underbelly is always white and the tail has clearly defined white sides. The hantavirus strain present in deer mice is Sin Nombre(SNV). The deer mouse is found throughout North America, preferring woodlands, but also appearing in desert areas.View a map showing where deer mice live in North America.

Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus)

cotton ratThe Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus), found in the southeastern US and down into Central and South America, has a bigger body than the deer mouse. The head and body measure approximately 5 – 7 inches (12.5cm – 18cm), with another 3 – 4 inches (7.5cm – 10cm) for the tail. The fur is longer and coarser, grayish-brown, even grayish-black, in color. The hantavirus strain present in the cotton rat is Black Creek Canal virus (BCCV). The cotton rat inhabits overgrown areas with shrubs and tall grasses.View a map showing where cotton rats live in North America.

Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris)

rice ratThe Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris) is slightly smaller than the cotton rat, with a 5 – 6 inch (7.5cm – 15cm) head and a very long 4 – 7 inch (10cm – 18cm) tail. It has short, soft, grayish-brown fur on top, and gray or tawny underbellies. Their feet are whitish. The rice rat prefers marshy areas and is semi-aquatic. The hantavirus strain present in the rice rat is Bayou virus (BAYV). It is found in the southeastern US and Central America.View a map showing where rice rats live in North America.

White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)

white-footed mouseThe White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) closely resembles the deer mouse. Head and body together mesaure approximately four inches (10cm). The tail is normall shorter than the body, typically 2 – 4 inches (5cm – 10cm). Its top fur ranges from pale to reddish brown, while its underside and feet are white. The virus strain present in the white-footed mouse is New York virus (NYV). The white-footed mouse is found throughout southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic and southern states, the midwestern and western states, and Mexico. It prefers wooded and brushy areas, although it will sometime inhabit more open ground.View a map showing where white-footed mice live in North America.

Both the deer mouse and the cotton rat usually live in rural areas, but can also be found in citites when conditions are right, such as easy availability of food, water and shelter.

Other Rodents May Also Carry Hantavirus

Other rodents carry strains of hantavirus that cause HPS, but they have not yet been identified. In addition, other rodent species may play host to other types of hantaviruses that cause a different type of infection, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

It is wise, therefore, to avoid close contact with rodents in general.

1 thought on “Avoiding Hantavirus”

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