Hantavirus infection in people is rare, but can lead to serious disease. Exposure to hantavirus occurs by having contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Although the transmission of hantavirus to people is uncommon, people who do get sick with the virus will initially experience flu-like symptoms and sometimes nausea and vomiting. In most cases, people who are exposed to hantavirus go on to develop a very severe and often fatal lung infection known as hantavirus Pulmonary syndrome (HPS) or hantavirus cardiopulmonary syndrome (HCPS).
Hantavirus is spread when virus particles from rodent urine, droppings, or saliva are stirred into the air. This can happen, for example, during spring cleaning of cottages, sheds or camping equipment when mice have gotten in during the winter. When hantavirus is present, it is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming, because infection can strike by breathing in virus particles.
Symptoms of hantavirus infection generally begin from one to six weeks after exposure. Early symptoms include:
Half of patients will experience more serious symptoms such as:
The disease can progress rapidly (4-10 days after initial symptoms) to include:
Anyone who comes into contact with rodents carrying hantavirus is at risk. Rodent infestation in and around the home remains the primary risk for hantavirus exposure but it can occur in other home-like places (e.g. cottages, cabins, chalets, trailers, garden sheds). Even healthy individuals are at risk for an HPS (or HPCS) infection if exposed to the virus.
Seeking early medical attention greatly increases the chance of survival.
There are no vaccines available for hantaviruses. The key to disease prevention is to become educated on how to prevent rodent infestations, and how to properly clean and disinfect areas contaminated by rodent droppings (PDF Document).
The Public Health Agency of Canada is responsible for providing Canadians with essential information on hantavirus. The Agency's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) is the only laboratory in Canada certified to conduct testing of hantavirus infections in humans. The NML also conducts analysis of trends in HPS (or HPCS) cases in Canada, as well as field investigations into hantavirus cases across Canada.
Health Canada – Hantaviruses, August 2009(PDF Document)