Home Properties of Hantavirus Transmission and Pathogenesis
Symptoms of Infection Diagnosis and Treatment Risk Factors and Prevention

Risk Factors and Prevention of infection

Risk factors for contracting Hantavirus

Deer mouse - courtesy of triffophoto3.tripod.com

Any contact with rodents or their excreta puts you at risk of acquiring Hantavirus infection.  Certain populations of people are more likely to become infected with the virus, because they come in contact with wild rodents more often.  People at increased risk include farmers, cottage and home owners, campers, hunters and people that receive rodent exposure at work, for instance construction workers, pest control workers and researchers using wild-caught rodents in their studies. (13, 25, 30)  In one retrospective study, 70% of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome cases were linked to domestic duties and farming activities. (12)

Activities that increase the risk of contracting Hantavirus (25, 28)

  • Occupying or visiting rodent-infested dwellings
  • Cleaning buildings or structures that are actively infested with rodents or have been vacant for some time, for example garages, sheds, storage units, barns, or other outbuildings

  • Disturbing rodent nests at home or work

  • Hiking, camping or hunting in rodent-infested areas, especially when  sleeping on the ground rather than in a tent or other shelter

  • Hand-plowing or hand-planting
  • Handling wild-caught rodents, especially without gloves.  This includes wild rodents kept as pets, wild-caught rodents used for research purposes and cleaning up rodent infestations.

Activities associated with Hantavirus infection - courtesy o Canada Communicable Disease Report

Sources of potential exposure to virus prior to becoming ill (Canada)

Prevention of infection

There is no vaccine against Hantavirus, so the only way to completely prevent infection is to avoid contact with wild rodents and their urine, feces and saliva.  Although completely preventing exposure to wild rodents is impossible, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce the chances of encountering them.  When hunting or camping, use some form of shelter rather than sleeping directly on the ground.  Set up tents away from places that rodents may feed or live, such as woodpiles and garbage disposal sites.  If possible, avoid entering buildings that may have a rodent infestation problem, and do not disturb obvious rodent nesting sites.  Never keep wild rodents as pets.  Fortunately, none of the domestic rodents, such as mice, rats, gerbils and guinea pigs, are known to carry Hantavirus. (13, 25, 28, 30)

Exposure can also be reduced by controlling rodent populations in buildings and surrounding areas.  Prevent wild rodents from accessing buildings by sealing any holes larger than 0.5 cm.  Remove any potential food sources by storing food, grain, animal feed and garbage in containers with tightly-fitting lids, and by putting pet food away at night.  Eliminate structures that rodents can use as shelter, such as wood and brush piles as well as abandoned vehicles and furniture.  Spring-loaded traps should be placed in areas where rodents frequent, or if traps cannot be used, rodenticides are another option.  Encouraging natural predators of rodents, such as cats and snakes, can help bring the population under control. (25, 27, 28, 30)

If you must clean a building that is infested with rodents, take all precautions in order to prevent Hantavirus transmission.  Here are some tips for cleaning more safely (25, 28, 29):Handling Deer Mice - courtesy of earthobservatory.nasa.gov

  • Get dust under control before starting to clean – Since Hantavirus infection is acquired by inhaling aerosols, you can reduce the chances of transmission by wetting down the area with a mist of water.  This will remove dust and particles from the air, preventing them from entering the lungs.
  • Always wear protective equipment – You can prevent possibly infected material from contacting your skin and mucous membranes by wearing a respirator, goggles, plastic gloves, long sleeves and pants when cleaning areas that are possibly contaminated with rodent urine and droppings.
  • Never handle rodents with your bare hands – Gloves should be worn to prevent bites and exposure to bodily secretions.
  • Apply disinfectants on areas that have been infested with rodents, as well as dead carcasses - Since Hantavirus is an enveloped virus, it is very susceptible to disinfectants.  A 10% bleach solution is very effective at killing Hantavirus.
  • Practice good personal hygiene – Always thoroughly wash your hands and face when the cleaning is finished and before eating or drinking.  Wash your contaminated clothing promptly after the job is done, in a separate load from your other laundry. Do not eat, drink or smoke in areas that are possibly contaminated with rodent urine or feces.