What Is Hantavirus?

Two rats in an attic or a basement.

Rabies, bubonic plague, monkeypox, West Nile encephalitis, Legionnaires' disease, bird flu. Living in proximity to animals means that we are often susceptible to zoonosis — diseases or infections that are naturally transmissible between species or from animals to humans.

Hantavirus is the latest zoonotic disease to infect people in New Mexico reports USA Today. A 27-year-old woman died more than a month after contracting the virus. Even though the virus was no longer active in her system, the damage was already done. Her kidneys failed, and her heart and lungs weakened. A 9-year-old boy was also infected and has undergone several surgeries.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a total of 728 cases have been reported in the U.S. as of January 2017. It is an ugly disease and has a mortality rate of 36 percent – mainly because there is no cure.

Hantavirus is carried by rodents, especially deer mice. The virus is found in rodents’ urine, droppings and saliva, however, the animal do not get sick. Humans can become infected with the virus when they come in contact with contaminated dust from mice nests or droppings.

Although the incubation time is not completely understood, it appears that symptoms may develop between one and five weeks after exposure to fresh urine, droppings or saliva from infected rodents.

Early symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches (especially in the large muscle groups — thighs, hips, back and sometimes shoulders)
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Chills
  • Abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain

Late symptoms (appear four to 10 days after the first symptoms):

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath

Complications of hantavirus may include kidney failure, heart failure and lung failure.

Potential risk activities for HPS

The CDC lists several ways that people can contract the deadly virus: Opening and cleaning previously unused buildings: Opening or cleaning cabins, sheds and outbuildings, including barns, garages and storage facilities, that have been closed during the winter is a potential risk for hantavirus infections, especially in rural settings.

Housecleaning activities: Cleaning in and around your own home can put you at risk if rodents have made it their home too. Many homes can expect to shelter rodents, especially as the weather turns cold.

Work-related exposure: Construction, utility and pest control workers can be exposed when they work in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population.

Campers and hikers: Campers and hikers can also be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats.


Hantavirus is a serious infection that gets worse quickly. Lung failure can occur and may lead to death. Even with aggressive treatment, more than half of people who have this disease in their lungs die.

People with hantavirus are usually admitted to the hospital, often to the intensive care unit. Treatments include oxygen, breathing tube or breathing machine, a medication called P to treat kidney-related problems and reduce the risk of death.

Needless to say, call your health care provider if you develop flu-like symptoms after you come in contact with rodent droppings or rodent urine, or dust that is contaminated with these substances.