A Denver resident was recently diagnosed with hantavirus, a rare but serious and potentially fatal respiratory disease carried by infected deer mice. No evidence of rodents was found during an inspection of the individual’s residence, but it is likely the individual contracted the virus in Denver.

Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse) Image/CDC
Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse)

This is the second case of hantavirus in Denver since tracking began in 1993.

Hantavirus cannot be spread from person to person or from pets to person. The virus is found in urine, saliva and droppings of infected deer mice. Deer mice are not usually found in urban areas, and hantavirus cases most often occur in rural or suburban areas. Deer mice can be identified by their large ears and white undersides. The common house mouse does not transmit Hantavirus.

Humans can become infected by breathing in the virus when stirring up dust from mouse nests or mouse droppings in areas with poor ventilation, or when handling or being bitten by mice. Most people who contract hantavirus do so during the spring and summer, often while cleaning homes and yards.

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Hantavirus symptoms usually appear one to two weeks after contraction, but can appear as long as eight weeks after exposure to infected rodents or their urine, saliva or droppings. Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches and severe pain in the legs and back. If you believe you or a family member have been exposed to hantavirus, contact your physician immediately.

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To protect yourself from hantavirus:

  • Keep mice and other rodents away from the living areas of your home.
  • Spray dust, dirt and rodent droppings, and dead rodents with a mixture of bleach and water (1 ½ cups of household bleach to one gallon of water) or other disinfectant. Allow the mixture to sit wet for at least 10 minutes before cleaning.
  • Wear rubber, latex or vinyl gloves and a dust mask when cleaning rodent affected areas. Wash hands with soap and warm water after cleaning areas affected by rodents.
  • Never vacuum or sweep areas where there is evidence of rodent infestation. Clean up debris while it is wet.
  • Remove wood, junk and brush piles near your home. Keep vegetation around the house well-trimmed.
  • Store human food, pet food and bird seed in covered containers.
  • Keep garbage in tightly covered cans.
  • Repair window screens and ensure weather-stripping is tight under all doors.

As of January 2017, a total of 728 cases of Hantavirus Infection have been reported in the United States. Thirty-six percent of all reported HPS cases have resulted in death.