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Hantavirus Frequently Asked Questions

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What is hantavirus?
Does hantavirus occur in San Diego?
How are people exposed?
What are the symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)?
What does a deer mouse look like?
Can I get hantavirus from another person?
How can I prevent hantavirus?

What is hantavirus?

Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that are carried by rodents. The most severe form of hantavirus is, Sin Nombre virus which was responsible for the hantavirus outbreak in 1993 in the "Four Corners" region of the United States.  Sin Nombre virus is the cause of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) and is primarly found in Deer Mice.

Does hantavirus occur in San Diego?

Yes, although it is very rare. Hantaviruses are routinely detected in wild rodents all around San Diego County. You can find specific information on the Hantavirus Cases in San Diego link.

How are people exposed?

Hantavirus is shed (excreted) by rodents primarily through their urine, saliva and droppings. People can become infected with hantavirus by inhaling contaminated dust after disturbing or cleaning rodent droppings or nests or by living or working in rodent-infested settings. Sin Nombre virus is primarily spread by Deer Mice.

What are the symptoms of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)?

HPS can begin 1-6 weeks after inhaling the virus.  Initial symptoms are general "flu-like) symptoms which include but are not limited to fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.  As the disease progresses, it can cause shortness of breath and may require hospitalization.  

What does a deer mouse look like?

Deer mice are the primary carriers of hantavirus, specifically Sin Nombre virus. The deer mouse is about six inches long from the nose to the end of the tail.  It is gray to light brown in color with a white belly. There are many other mice, Harvest Mice and Northern Baja Mice that can also carry various types of hantavirus that look very similar to deer mice.

Can I get hantavirus from another person?

No.  There are no reported cases in the United States of the disease being spread from one person to another.  Dogs, cats, birds, and reptiles do not normally become infected with hantavirus and  can't spread the disease to people.

How can I prevent hantavirus?
  • Keep wild rodents out of your home and workplace.  
  • Seal up cracks and gaps in buildings that are larger than 1/4 inch.
  • Trap indoor rats and mice.
  • Remove rodent food sources (including pet food).
  • Clean up rodent infested areas using the wet cleaning method.
  • Avoid coming into contact with rodents, rodent burrows or dens.
  • Air out cabins, shelters, barns or outdoor building for at least 30 min prior to use or cleaning.