What is Hantavirus?
Hantaviruses are viruses that can spread from animals to people that can cause serious disease in people. You can be infected with a hantavirus if you
- Breathe air or eat food contaminated with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents
- Are bitten by an infected rodent, typically a mouse or a rat
Andes virus, found in South America, is the only hantavirus known to spread from person to person.
Hantaviruses in North and South America most commonly cause a serious lung disease known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Hantaviruses in Europe and Asia cause organ damage, especially to the kidneys and blood vessels. This is known as hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome. Recovery can take weeks to months. In some cases hantavirus can cause death.
Symptoms of hantavirus disease usually develop three to four weeks after infection but can occur as early as one week and, in rare cases, not start until eight weeks after infection. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches. There may also be headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Who is at risk?
Hantaviruses are found throughout the world. Cases of hantavirus disease are rare among travelers, but some activities increase a traveler’s chances of being exposed to rodents, rodent nests, rodent urine and droppings. These activities include the following:
- Working with animals (veterinarians and wildlife professionals)
- Working on farms
- Traveling to rural areas
What can travelers do to prevent hantavirus infection?
There are no vaccines or medicines to prevent hantavirus disease. Travelers can protect themselves by taking the following steps.
Avoid rodents when traveling
- Disinfect droppings and nesting materials by spraying with a disinfectant, wearing kitchen gloves. Dispose of sprayed materials in a plastic bag.
- Avoid touching live or dead rodents. Do not disturb rodents, burrows, or nests.
- Before occupying abandoned or unused cabins, open them up to air out. Inspect for rodents and do not use cabins if you find signs of rodent infestation such as droppings or nests.
- If you sleep outdoors, check potential campsites for rodent droppings and burrows.
- Avoid sleeping near woodpiles or garbage areas. These may be frequented by rodents.
- Avoid sleeping on bare ground; use a tent with a floor, mat or elevated cots if they are available.
- Do not leave pet food in feeding dishes.
- Store foods in rodent-proof containers and promptly discard, bury, or burn all garbage in accordance with campsite regulations.
Wash your hands
- Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you need to touch your face, make sure your hands are clean.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Do not kiss, hug, or share eating utensils or cups.
- Do not touch the bedding or clothing of a sick person.