Get Healthy Carson City: Be hantavirus aware: It’s that time of year |

Get Healthy Carson City: Be hantavirus aware: It’s that time of year

Alexis Ramirez
Carson City Health and Human Services

This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Tuesday’s health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.

As the weather warms up and people start their favorite outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, they need to beware of a rare but deadly virus, Hantavirus. Hantavirus is spread through contact with an infected rodent or their urine, saliva, and droppings. The virus cannot be spread from person to person. Most cases are spread by deer mice, which live in woodland areas and deserts throughout North America including the Eastern Sierra Mountains. People become infected with the virus when they breathe in contaminated air or dust in houses, barns, garages, and sheds. Infection with Hantavirus can progress to a severe respiratory disease known as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.


Symptoms of the disease may develop 1 to 8 weeks after exposure. Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, and achy muscles similar to the flu; in about half of all cases, headaches, dizziness, chills, and stomach problems have also occurred as early symptoms. Four to ten days after the onset, late symptoms can appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath as fluid fills the lungs.

Hantavirus is spread through contact with an infected rodent or their urine, saliva, and droppings. The virus cannot be spread from person to person.


Hantavirus is not spread from human to human and there is no specific cure or vaccine for the infection. However, if an infected individual is recognized early and receives medical attention in an intensive care unit, they may have a better chance of recovery. If you experience any of the mentioned symptoms and have had contact with rodent droppings, seek medical attention immediately and mention the potential rodent exposure.


Taking some simple precautions around mice will reduce the chance of getting this disease.


Keep rodents out of houses, sheds, and barns as much as possible.

Experts recommend rodent removal (trapping) days before cleaning.

Open doors and windows at least a couple hours before clean-up or create cross ventilation in closed, poorly ventilated, mouse-infested buildings (like sheds, barns, basements).

Do not dry vacuum or sweep.

Wear rubber gloves to handle rodents, living or dead.

Wear goggles if infestation is heavy.

For very heavy infestations, power respirators with High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters (either half-mask air purifying or powered air purifying respirators) are recommended (dust masks do not provide protection).

Wet down rodent nests and other contaminated areas with disinfectant like bleach or Lysol. Bleach must be mixed up fresh, with at least one-part bleach to 10 parts water. Most household disinfectants work well.

Allow disinfectant to stand for at least 5 minutes before mopping or cleaning up with paper towels.

Use a paper towel to pick up the urine and droppings, and dispose of the waste in the garbage.

After the rodent droppings and urine have been removed, disinfect items that might have been contaminated by rodents or their urine and droppings.

Promptly dispose of cleaning materials and wash hands and clothes.

Wash any bedding and clothing with laundry detergent in hot water if exposed to rodent urine or droppings.


Some people have been infected by Hantavirus from vehicles that were infested with mice.

Mice are more likely to get into a vehicle and build nests when it sits unused for a period of time.

If you notice rodent droppings or nesting materials in your car, or if seeds or nesting materials blow out of your car vents when you turn on the fan, you should remove any mice that are present and the waste left behind using the same precautions as in buildings.

Again, work in an open well-ventilated space, wear gloves, and use disinfectant.


Employers should make sure that staff knows what they need to know to reduce the chance of getting Hantavirus.


The risk of Hantavirus from exposure to mouse waste outdoors is low.

Prevention of potential mice nests and indoor infestation are crucial to preventing Hantavirus. Identifying symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome can prove to be lifesaving if addressed in its early stages.

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