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CDC Prevention Guidelines Database (Archive)


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This online archive of the CDC Prevention Guidelines Database is being maintained for historical purposes, and has had no new entries since October 1998. To find more recent guidelines, please visit the following:
  • MMWR at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/mmwrsrch.htm
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Prevent Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Publication date: 09/01/1994


Table of Contents

Prevent Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
What is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (also known as HPS)?
Should tourists, campers, and hikers worry about hantavirus infection?
What kinds of rodents carry hantavirus?
How do I identify rodents, burrows, and droppings?
How is the virus spread?
What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and how long after infection do they appear?
What should I do if I think I have hantavirus infection?
Is there a cure for or vaccine against hantavirus infection?
Is it safe to travel to areas where hantavirus infection has been reported?
To minimize the risk for hantavirus infection, follow these precautions:

POINT OF CONTACT FOR THIS DOCUMENT:


Prevent Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

What is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (also known as HPS)?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a serious, often deadly, respiratory disease that has been found mostly in rural areas of the western United States.

The disease is caused by a hantavirus that is carried by rodents and passed on to humans through infected rodent urine, saliva, or droppings.

Should tourists, campers, and hikers worry about hantavirus infection?

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rare disease, and most tourists are not at increased risk for hantavirus infection. However, visitors to rural areas and nature resorts -- campers, hikers, and others who take part in activities outdoors -- can become exposed to rodent urine, saliva, or droppings and become infected with hantavirus.

If your activities take you to areas where you may become exposed to rodents and their urine, saliva, or droppings, take the precautions listed in this pamphlet to prevent being exposed to hantavirus.

What kinds of rodents carry hantavirus?

The deer mouse is the primary carrier of the virus that causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. This type of rodent is found throughout the United States, except in the Southeast and East Coast. In the Southeast, the cotton rat is known to carry hantavirus.

How do I identify rodents, burrows, and droppings?

A deer mouse is 4-9 inches long from head to tip of tail. It is pale gray to reddish brown and has white fur on its belly, feet, and underside of the tail. It has oversized ears.

A mouse nest (burrow) is usually a pile of material under which the mouse lives. This pile can contain many different materials, such as twigs, insulation, styrofoam, and grass.

How is the virus spread?

Hantavirus is spread from wild rodents to people. The virus, which is found in rodent urine, saliva, and feces, gets in the air as mist from urine and saliva or dust from feces. Breathing in the virus is the most common way of becoming infected; however, you can also become infected by touching the mouth or nose after handling contaminated materials. A rodent's bite can also spread the virus.

Hantavirus is not spread from person to person. You cannot become infected by being near a person who has hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The virus, which is able to survive in the environment (for example, in contaminated dirt and dust), can be killed by most household disinfectants, such as bleach or alcohol.

What are the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and how long after infection do they appear?

Symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome usually appear within 2 weeks of infection but can appear as early as 3 days to as late as 6 weeks after infection.

First symptoms are general and flu-like: fever (101 degrees - 104 degrees F); headache; abdominal, joint, and lower back pain; sometimes nausea and vomiting. However, the primary symptom of this disease is difficulty in breathing, which is caused by fluid build-up in the lungs and quickly progresses to an inability to breathe.

What should I do if I think I have hantavirus infection?

If any combination of the symptoms described above -- especially difficulty in breathing -- appear after direct or indirect exposure to rodents, contact your doctor or public health clinic immediately and be sure to mention your exposure to rodents.

Is there a cure for or vaccine against hantavirus infection?

No cure or vaccine is yet available against hantavirus infection. The sooner after infection medical treatment is sought, the better the chance of recovery.

Is it safe to travel to areas where hantavirus infection has been reported?

Yes. Travel to and within all areas where hantavirus infection has been reported is safe. Nevertheless, if you camp or hike in an area inhabited by rodents, you have a small risk of being exposed to infected rodents and becoming infected with hantavirus.

To minimize the risk for hantavirus infection, follow these precautions:

For more information, contact the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1-800-532-9929.


POINT OF CONTACT FOR THIS DOCUMENT:

To request a copy of this document or for questions concerning this document, please contact the person or office listed below. If requesting a document, please specify the complete name of the document as well as the address to which you would like it mailed. Note that if a name is listed with the address below, you may wish to contact this person via CDC WONDER/PC e-mail.
DIVISION OF VIRAL & RICKETTSIAL DISEASES
CDC/NCID/DVR
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333



This page last reviewed: Friday, July 13, 2007
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