If you hear scratching or scurrying in your walls or ceilings, there is a good chance that you may have mice, or rats in your home. Unfortunately, although they may look very similar, these rodents are not the cute little furry domestic creatures that most people choose to keep as pets. Wild mice can often harbor, and be the carriers of many different diseases which can be spread to humans. One of these serious diseases is Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). While relatively rare, it has been fatal in approximately 36% of the reported cases. Knowing the signs and symptoms of this disease, as well as the best way to prevent it are the first step in keeping your family safe.
What Rodents Put You At Risk?
Although most domestic and laboratory mice and rats belong to the same species called Rattus Norvegicus, or the Norway rat, there are many different varieties found in the wild. Some of the most common of these in the United States include the:
- Deer Mouse
- Cotton Rat
- Rice Rat
- White-footed mouse
Many times not only do they differ in their physical appearance, but they also differ in where they are found. One of the things that these four varieties have in common is the fact that they all can be carriers of HPS.
What Is HPS?
HPS is a very serious, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease caused by exposure to rodents that carry a strain of the hantavirus. In the US there are several strains of this virus including:
- New York hantavirus - is carried by the white-footed mouse and is primarily found in the northeastern US.
- Black Creek hantavirus - is carried by the cotton rat and rice rats, and is primarily found in the southeastern US.
- Sin Nombre virus- is carried by the deer mouse, and is the most common source of hantavirus cases in the country. It is most prevalent in the central and western part of the country.
How Is HPS Spread?
Humans can become infected with HPS by being exposed to the virus within their environment. The most common source of exposure is airborne. This is caused by breathing air that have been contaminated with the droplets of the virus. These droplets are released into the air when fresh rodent urine, nesting materials, or rat droppings are stirred up.
You can also contract the disease by
- Direct bite transmissions
- Transferring the virus from a contaminated item to your mucus membrane
- Eating foods contaminated with infected rat urine, droppings, and saliva
Everyone who comes in contact with infected rodents is at risk of contracting the disease, although there is a higher reported incidence of males contracting the disease over females by a margin of 63%-37%. If you have infected rodents around your home, you can come in contact with the virus when you are performing any type of tasks which will raise dust into the air. These include cleaning, sweeping, and vacuuming areas that are infected with virus containing particles, as well as crawling into crawl spaces, attics, or other areas where the infected rodents have been.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of HPS?
Many times the signs and symptoms of HPS are often confused with the flu or other respiratory infections. These symptoms include
- Muscle Aches
- Stomach Pain
Within four to ten days following your exposure, you may develop a cough, shortness of breath, with a tightness in your chest.
It is really important that if you begin to exhibit any of these symptoms and have been in an area with an infestation of rodents, you let your doctor know. This is because the physician will only be able to treat the symptoms you are exhibiting since there is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for the disease. When the disease is identified early, the physicians have a better chance of supporting your respiratory system prior to you going into severe respiratory distress.
How To Avoid HPS?
The best way to avoid HPS is to ensure you quickly address any type of rodent infestation you have in your home. While you may be tempted to trap, bait, or take other means to address your problem, you may need to call a licensed exterminator. Not only will they have more knowledge and experience in dealing with your rodent problem, they will help you to identify the places that the rodents are entering your home. Do not put your family at risk of disease. Call for mice extermination anytime you suspect rodents may be in your home.