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Rodents in the United States that Carry Hantavirus

Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus)

deer mouse

The Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is a deceptively cute animal, with big eyes and ears. Its head and body measure approximately 2-3 inches (5cm - 7.5cm) in length, and the tail adds another 2 - 3 inches. In color, the deer mouse ranges from grey to reddish brown, depending on age. The underbelly is always white and the tail has clearly defined white sides. The hantavirus strain present in deer mice is Sin Nombre(SNV). The deer mouse is found throughout North America, preferring woodlands, but also appearing in desert areas.

View a map showing where deer mice live in North America.

Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus)

cotton rat

The Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus), found in the southeastern US and down into Central and South America, has a bigger body than the deer mouse. The head and body measure approximately 5 - 7 inches (12.5cm - 18cm), with another 3 - 4 inches (7.5cm - 10cm) for the tail. The fur is longer and coarser, grayish-brown, even grayish-black, in color. The hantavirus strain present in the cotton rat is Black Creek Canal virus (BCCV). The cotton rat inhabits overgrown areas with shrubs and tall grasses.

View a map showing where cotton rats live in North America.

Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris)

rice rat

The Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris) is slightly smaller than the cotton rat, with a 5 - 6 inch (7.5cm - 15cm) head and a very long 4 - 7 inch (10cm - 18cm) tail. It has short, soft, grayish-brown fur on top, and gray or tawny underbellies. Their feet are whitish. The rice rat prefers marshy areas and is semi-aquatic. The hantavirus strain present in the rice rat is Bayou virus (BAYV). It is found in the southeastern US and Central America.

View a map showing where rice rats live in North America.

White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus)

white-footed mouse

The White-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) closely resembles the deer mouse. Head and body together mesaure approximately four inches (10cm). The tail is normall shorter than the body, typically 2 - 4 inches (5cm - 10cm). Its top fur ranges from pale to reddish brown, while its underside and feet are white. The virus strain present in the white-footed mouse is New York virus (NYV). The white-footed mouse is found throughout southern New England and the Mid-Atlantic and southern states, the midwestern and western states, and Mexico. It prefers wooded and brushy areas, although it will sometime inhabit more open ground.

View a map showing where white-footed mice live in North America.

Both the deer mouse and the cotton rat usually live in rural areas, but can also be found in citites when conditions are right, such as easy availability of food, water and shelter.

Other Rodents May Also Carry Hantavirus

Other rodents carry strains of hantavirus that cause HPS, but they have not yet been identified. In addition, other rodent species may play host to other types of hantaviruses that cause a different type of infection, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

It is wise, therefore, to avoid close contact with rodents in general.


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  • Page last reviewed: August 29, 2012 (archived document) The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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