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The North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH) is reporting a case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in an pediatric patient in eastern North Dakota. Testing performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the individual was infected with hantavirus. The individual was hospitalized but has since recovered.

Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse)

“People are most often exposed to hantavirus when they inhale dust while cleaning or occupying previously vacant cabins, sheds or other dwellings and outbuildings that contain rodents, rodent droppings and rodent nests,” said Levi Schlosser, epidemiologist with the NDDoH Division of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases. “Currently, only supportive treatment exists for hantavirus disease, so it is important to be wary of rodent infestations to properly prevent infection.”

HPS is a viral infection that can cause severe lung disease, including pneumonia. Typically, infected rodents spread the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus is transmitted when someone breathes in air contaminated by the virus, and on rare occasions, it can be transmitted by the bite of an infected rodent, such as the deer mouse.

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As the weather begins to change, people may be cleaning cabins, sheds and other outdoor buildings that could be infested with rodents. Cabins, sheds and other outdoor buildings that could be harboring rodents are places where exposure to hantavirus is more likely to occur. NDDoH offers the following tips to avoid hantavirus infection when cleaning a building with signs of rodent infestation:

  • Ventilate the space by opening the doors and windows for 30 minutes before you start cleaning.
  • Wear gloves and use disinfectant when cleaning up dead rodents or their urine, droppings and nests.
  • Saturate the material with disinfectant for at least five minutes before removal.
  • Mop floors and clean countertops, cabinets and drawers with disinfectant.
  • Use a commercial disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and follow the label instructions or use a bleach solution made with one part bleach and nine parts water.
  • Do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming up droppings, urine or nesting materials.
  • Do not let children play in crawl spaces or vacant buildings where rodents may be present.

Symptoms of HPS usually begin two to three weeks after infection. Early symptoms commonly include fever, muscle and body aches, fatigue, headache, dizziness, chills, nausea and vomiting. Within a short period of time, symptoms will worsen to include coughing and shortness of breath as lungs fill with fluid. People with HPS are typically hospitalized.

The virus was first recognized in the United States in 1993. Since that time, there have been 19 cases of HPS reported to the NDDoH, including this current case. Three cases were in children. Eight of the 19 reported cases were fatal. Nationally, 833 cases have been reported, with 35% resulting in death, through December 2020.

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