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Hantavirus FAQ

Yosemite Deaths Raise Questions About Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS)? continued...

Other early symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of people who develop HPS have these symptoms.

It's hard to tell these early symptoms from symptoms of the flu or other common illnesses. But if you get these symptoms one to six weeks after contact with rodents or their droppings, tell your health care professional immediately.

Late symptoms begin to appear four to 10 days after the early symptoms. These include coughing and shortness of breath. It becomes harder and harder to breathe. All patients must be hospitalized and nearly all need mechanical ventilators to survive.

The disease is often fatal, with an overall mortality rate of 36% in the U.S. In 2011, there were 24 cases with 12 deaths.

What is the treatment for hantavirus infection?

There's no specific treatment for hantavirus infection. Known antiviral drugs do not help. There is no vaccine.

The sooner people with hantavirus infection get intensive care, the better their chances of survival. Those who get care only when they can barely breathe do worst.

If you've had a rodent exposure and get any of the early symptoms, contact your health care professional immediately.

How can I protect myself against hantavirus infection?

Rodent infestations are extremely common. Keeping rodents out of your house and out of your campsite is important. Some tips:

  • Keep foods in thick plastic or metal containers with tight lids.
  • Clean up spilled food and dirty dishes right away.
  • Keep outside cooking areas and grills clean.
  • Put pet food away right after use. Do not leave pet food or water bowls out overnight.
  • Keep bird feeders away from the house. Use squirrel guards to keep rodents away from your feeders.
  • Keep compost bins at least 100 feet from your house.
  • Animal feed should be kept in rodent-proof containers with tight lids. At night, return all uneaten animal food to these containers.
  • Eliminate nesting sites near the home. Woodpiles, hay, and garbage cans should be at least a foot off the ground.

Despite our best efforts, rodents sometimes get into our houses and storage areas.

Before cleaning up, trap the rodents and seal the holes where they got in. Put on rubber, latex, or vinyl gloves and spray dead rodents with disinfectant or bleach solution. Let the disinfectant soak in for five minutes, then wrap the dead rodent in a paper towel or rag and put it in a plastic bag. Seal tightly, put in a second bag and seal it, then throw the bag in a covered trashcan.

When the traps have been untouched for a week, it's time to clean up.

The CDC suggests that after a week, virus in the rodent droppings, urine, and nesting materials should no longer be infectious. But don't take that for granted.

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