Hantavirus risk increases as spring approaches


The signs of spring are all around and many people are eager to begin spring cleaning of their garages, sheds, and barn. It is important to know what steps can be taken to protect against a hantavirus infection.

“Infections with hantavirus often increase as people begin to clean their garages and sheds in the warmer spring weather,” said Mono and Inyo county Public Health Officer Rick Johnson. “Cleaning activities can disturb nesting materials contaminated with dried saliva, urine, or droppings from infected deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus). The disturbed nesting materials become airborne and the air is inhaled causing an exposure to the virus. This exposure leads to a hantavirus infection. A person might also be infected with hantavirus if contaminated materials are directly introduced into broken skin or into the eyes or mouth.”

Both Montana and Colorado have already reported three cases each, and California has possibly had its first case, likely acquired in the Truckee area, according to Mono County Health Department officials.

Symptoms can begin one to six weeks after becoming infected with the virus, Johnson said. The illness typically starts with three to five days of flu-like symptoms including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. But remember, flu season is going away. Within a few days the illness rapidly progresses to severe shortness of breath. 

Early diagnosis of a hantavirus infection and immediate medical care increase the likelihood of a full recovery.

Individuals exposed to rodents or their waste who experience symptoms should immediately seek medical treatment and notify their provider that they have been around rodents or rodent waste, Johnson said. Giving this information to your provider will help him or her to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as a hantavirus infection.

The best way to prevent hantavirus transmission is by controlling rodent populations in areas where you live and work.