Hanta Virus, a distant cousin of the Ebola virus, has been recognized as a cause of disease for many years. In the United States, disease caused by Hanta virus has probably always existed but in such low numbers that it was not recognized. A 1993 outbreak of fatal respiratory illness on an Indian reservation in the Four Corners area (the border of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona) led epidemiologists to the discovery of Hanta virus as the causative agent. Since that discovery, Hanta virus disease has been reported in every western state, and in many eastern states.
Hanta virus is carried by rodents, particularly deer mice, and is present in their urine and feces. The Hanta virus does not cause disease in the carrier animal but it does in man. Humans are thought to become infected when they are exposed to contaminated dust from the nests or droppings of mice. The disease is not, however, passed between humans. Contaminated dust is often encountered when cleaning long-vacated dwellings, sheds, or other enclosed areas.
The initial symptoms of Hanta virus disease closely resemble influenza. The disease begins abruptly with fever, chills, muscle aches (myalgia), headache, nausea and vomiting, and malaise. The fever may be higher in younger people than in older people. For a very short period, the infected person feels somewhat better, but this is followed within a day or two by an increased respiratory rate caused by a seepage of fluid into the lungs. The initial shortness of breath is subtle and the patient may be unaware of it, but progression is rapid. The patient bleeds internally, and ultimately develops respiratory failure.
To avoid any risk of contracting the Hanta virus, use a hose spray or spray bottle of dilute water/bleach solution (5:1) to wet down any work areas where there is a generous infestation of mouse droppings. The droppings look like black, cooked rice grains. Then, wearing a dust mask and gloves, wipe the sprayed surface clean. You should dispose of dead mice by dampening the body with the spray solution, picking it up with gloves, and placing it into a plastic bag. Do not clear droppings or dead mice with a blower, vacuum, or hand broom!
Avoiding the aerosol or dust from these droppings is all you need to do to prevent infection. You cannot get this illness from another person.