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Hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread mainly by rodents and can cause varied disease syndromes in people worldwide.  Infection with any hantavirus can produce hantavirus disease in people. Hantaviruses in the Americas are known as “New World” hantaviruses and may cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Other hantaviruses, known as “Old World” hantaviruses, are found mostly in Europe and Asia and may cause hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS).

Each hantavirus serotype has a specific rodent host species and is spread to people via aerosolized virus that is shed in urine, feces, and saliva, and less frequently by a bite from an infected host. The most important hantavirus in the United States that can cause HPS is the Sin Nombre virus, spread by the deer mouse.

People who do the following:

  • Cleaning up mouse and rat urine, droppings, and nests without wearing rubber or plastic gloves 
  • Entering a home, shed, camper, or cabin infested with rodents 
  • Working in areas where mice and rats may live (such as barns or vehicles)  
  • Participating in recreational outdoor activities where exposure to mice and rat habitat may occur (such as visiting infested trail shelters or camping)
  • People can get HPS by:
  • Breathing in air contaminated with fresh mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nesting materials from an infected rodent 
  • Touching contaminated mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nesting materials and then touching eyes, nose, or mouth  
  • Being bitten or scratched by an infected rodent 
  • Eating food contaminated by urine, droppings or saliva from an infected rodent In the United States, there have been no reports of HPS spreading between people.

Hantavirus is a reportable disease in Oklahoma.

Eliminate or minimize contact with rodents, rodent droppings, urine, and saliva. Make your environment less appealing to rodents and prevent them from entering your home, outbuildings, workplace, and campsite. If you identify evidence of rodent infestation, it is important to take steps to limit your possible exposure.

Symptoms of HPS usually start one to eight weeks after contact with infected mice or rats or their urine, feces, and saliva.

  • People usually DO NOT have a runny nose, sore throat, or a rash.
  • Four to 10 days after initial symptoms (see pictures to the right), some people recover, while others develop more severe HPS. Patients may have a hard time breathing, which can become life-threatening.
  • Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms (especially difficulty breathing) occur after exposure to rodents or rodent waste.

There is no treatment, cure, or vaccine for HPS. However, persons with HPS who are recognized early and receive medical care may do better.