Rodents can carry dangerous pathogens, like hantavirus. Hantaviruses are a family of viruses found worldwide. In the United States, deer mice and other wild rodents can shed hantavirus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. People can become infected when they breathe in contaminated air. This can happen when cleaning rodent-infested areas in your home or vehicle – or when opening cabins, sheds, or outbuildings (like barns and storage facilities) that have been closed for the winter – which can stir up dust and dirt that contains urine, droppings, or nesting materials from an infected rodent. The virus can also be spread if an infected rodent bites someone. Scientists also believe people may be able to get the virus if they eat contaminated food or if they touch something that is contaminated and then touch their nose or mouth. In the United States, infection with hantavirus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Symptoms of HPS usually first look like the flu, with fever, muscle aches, and fatigue. Later symptoms of HPS include shortness of breath, cough, and difficulty breathing. HPS can be fatal, so it’s important to take these prevention tips with you anywhere that rodents may live.
- There is no way to tell if a rodent is infected with hantavirus by its appearance; use safe cleaning practices every time you find rodent infestations.
- If you find rodent droppings, nesting material, or other signs of rodent activity, use disinfectant to wet down the area before cleaning it up. It is important that you do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up droppings, urine, or nesting materials. Wear gloves and be sure to wash your hands after you have finished cleaning.
- If you develop flu-like symptoms with difficulty breathing after coming into contact with rodents or a rodent-infested area, go to the doctor.
Cleaning in and around your home can put you at risk for hantavirus infections if rodents have made it their home, too.
This is a chest x-ray of a patient with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Opening or cleaning cabins that have been closed during the winter is a potential risk for hantavirus infections, especially in rural settings.
Pet rats can also carry a type of hantavirus called Seoul virus, which caused illnesses in rats and their owners in 11 states in 2017.
CDC scientist collecting specimens from trapped rodents.
Prevent hantavirus by limiting contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite:
- Seal up holes and gaps in your home or garage where rodents may be coming in.
- Place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation.
- Put human food and animal feed in containers that rodents cannot access (such as sealed containers made of metal or durable plastic).