Hantavirus: The Unexpected Risk of Spring Cleaning and How to Avoid It
Have you ever heard of Hantavirus? If not, and you plan to do some serious spring cleaning, then it’s definitely something you should know about. This illness can have a huge impact on your health and wellness, and it’s carried by pests that may have taken up residence in your home or garage this winter.
Here’s what you need to know about Hantavirus, its symptoms, how it’s spread, who is at risk, and what you can do to prevent it.
What Is Hantavirus?
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is an infectious disease that can result in life-threatening breathing issues. There are several types of hantaviruses that can cause this disease, and they are carried by several different types of rodents.
In Canada, deer mice that live in the wooded areas of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan are the primary culprits of spread. In Ontario, deer mice frequent the forested areas in the north, and Hantavirus has also been found in deer mice around Toronto.
Treatment options for Hantavirus are very limited, so the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to avoid rodents and their habitats – and keep your home from becoming one of their habitats!
The Symptoms of Hantavirus
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome usually hits people in two distinct stages. In the first stage, flu-like symptoms strike that can include:
- Muscle aches
- Abdominal pain
Hantaviruses in their earliest stages are difficult to distinguish from the flu or pneumonia. But between four and 10 days after infection, more serious symptoms can present themselves, such as:
- Secretion-producing cough
- Low blood pressure
- Shortness of breath
- Reduced heart efficiency
- Fluid accumulation in the lungs
How Do You Get Hantavirus?
Hantavirus cases normally show up in rural areas where fields, farms, and forests house the mice that carry the virus. Barns, sheds, and outbuildings are sites where people can be exposed to the virus.
Rodents shed the virus in their urine and droppings, as well as in their saliva. It is then transmitted to humans when they breathe in air that has been contaminated with the virus. When you’re cleaning and you stir up droppings, urine, or even the nesting material left behind by rodents, tiny droplets get into the air that can be breathed in. This is known as airborne transmission.
There are other ways for the virus to be transmitted as well. These include:
- A rodent with the virus biting someone
- Surface transmission through touching something that has been contaminated and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth
- Eating food contaminated with the droppings, urine, or saliva of an infected rodent
As mentioned, there are many types of hantavirus. The type found most commonly in the U.S. and Canada cannot be transmitted from person to person through casual contact. You also cannot be infected through a blood transfusion.
Who Is at Risk of Hantavirus?
Anyone who comes into contact with an infected rodent is at risk of developing the illness. The primary exposure of Hantavirus is a rodent infestation in the home. Even healthy people can become ill if exposed to the virus – and can get very sick as a result.
What Activities Increase Risk?
There are several activities that may increase the risk of being exposed to and becoming sick from Hantavirus. This includes:
- Cleaning or opening sheds, outbuildings, garages, storage facilities, and cabins that have been closed all winter
- Cleaning your home if you have a rodent infestation
- Construction workers, as well as utility workers, are at risk for being exposed when they enter crawl spaces or vacant buildings that may have a rodent infestation
- Hikers and campers can be exposed when using trail shelters or camps that are also rodent habitats
What You Can Do about Hantavirus
The most important thing you can do is to prevent mice from making your home and property their home too! You can do this by:
Sealing up the buildings
Any holes outside or inside the home will prevent rodents from getting in. Make sure to seal up even the smallest holes, as rodents only need a small opening to be able to squeeze inside.
Getting pest control
Have a pest control professional come to your home to set traps and reduce the rodent population around your property.
If you’re going to attempt to clean a place where you know there has been or is an active rodent infestation, then do it carefully. You may want to wear a mask to prevent yourself from breathing in any airborne rodent waste and make sure to wash and disinfect your hands before touching your face.
If you need assistance with a rodent infestation, call a pest control professional to help.
About the Author:
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert and a regular guest on HGTV. He is renowned in the industry as an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions. Mackie and business partner Sandy Costa were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.