The Problem with Mice and Shelters: Hantavirus

Peromyscus Maniculatus commonly know as the deer mouse is a well know resident of shelters. Most see these mice as cute inquisitive creatures that are always looking for a free meal. What many overlook is these mice potentially carry a deadly disease know as the Hantavirus.

So what is the Hantavirus?

  • Hantavirus is a virus that is carried by rodents. The infection caused by hantavirus may cause Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome (HFRS) and progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which is a fatal condition.



What are the Chances?



According to the CDC, there has been a total of 690 cases of hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome reported in the United States. The vast majority(659) have been reported from 1995 to January 2016.  As you can see from the map most cases that have been reported are from the western portion of the United States.


Exposure to the virus usually occurs in rural areas  such as forests, fields, and farms that offer suitable habitats for the rodent hosts. Potential sites where a person can be exposed to the virus include shelters, barns and outbuildings. Carriers of the virus in the US include deer mice, white-footed mouse(northeast) cotton rats and rice rats. The virus is passed on through their urine, feces and saliva. The virus is commonly transmitted to people breathing in air that has been contaminated with the virus. There are no known cases of human to human transmission.


Early Symptoms: Flu like in Nature

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches:  especially in the large muscle groups such as hips, back, thighs or shoulders.
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Late Symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing   


There is no specific treatment or vaccine currently available for hantavirus infection. It is important that infected individuals receive medical care early on in diagnosis.

Keeping Safe

While researching more about the virus I came across an interesting set of recommendations from WebMD:

If you are hiking or camping, especially in areas where hantavirus has been reported, the following recommendations may help you avoid contact with infected rodents:

  • Avoid disturbing rodent burrows or rodent dens.
  • Do not handle or pet any rodents that you see, even if they appear tame.
  • Do not use cabins or other enclosed shelters that are rodent-infested until they have been aired out, cleaned, and disinfected.
  • Do not pitch tents or place sleeping bags in areas near rodent droppings, rodent burrows, or possible rodent shelters, such as woodpiles.
  • If possible, do not sleep on the bare ground. Use a cot with the sleeping surface at least 12 in. (30.5 cm) above the ground or use tents with floors.
    • I always use a plastic ground cloth when sleeping is shelters.
  • Keep food in rodent-proof containers.
  • Promptly throw away all garbage and trash in covered trash cans. If trash cans are not available, store garbage in a rodent-proof container until you get to a place where you can throw it away safely.
  • Use only bottled water or water that has been disinfected by filtering, boiling, chlorination, or iodination for drinking, cooking, washing dishes, and brushing your teeth.

These recommendations are logical, but not all are practical on the trail.


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