Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare but deadly disease that was first recognized in 1993 and has since been identified throughout the United States. Certain species of rodents are the only known animal carriers, including deer mice in the Southwest, cotton rats and rice rats in the Southeast, and the white-footed mouse in the Northeast.
Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. Researchers also suspect people can become sick if they eat food contaminated by urine, droppings, or saliva from an infected rodent. The disease cannot be transmitted from person to person.
Symptoms may occur between 1 and 8 weeks after exposure. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms are universal. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. About half of all HPS patients experience these symptoms. The late symptoms of HPS appear 4 to 10 days after the initial phase of illness. These include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a “tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face” as the lungs fill with fluid.
There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, then their outcomes may be better. In intensive care, patients are intubated and given oxygen therapy to help them through the period of severe respiratory distress.
Eliminate or minimize contact with rodents at home, at the workplace, and in recreational areas. Seal up any holes or gaps in your home or garage, and place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation. Clean up any easy-to-reach food. The most sensible way to avoid contact with infected rodents is to prevent rodents from infesting the places where you live and work and to follow safety precautions if you enter a rodent-infested area. It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming. Infection occurs when you breathe in virus particles.