Washoe County (NV) health officials are reporting the first human hantavirus case since 2006. The patient is a resident of south Reno.

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

“Hantavirus is transmitted by rodents, most likely the common deer mouse in our area,” said Washoe County District Health Officer Kevin Dick. “People should be very cautious when cleaning, working, or recreating in areas where mouse droppings and/or urine may have collected and become aerosolized by cleaning, sweeping, vacuuming, or tramping. It’s when those particles are breathed in that people are at risk for contracting the virus,” Dick said.

Campers, hunters, and hikers may also be at risk if they are in areas where heavy rodent infestation is common, such as old cabins, barns, sheds and campsites. People pulling out holiday decorations from garages and storage units may also find signs of rodent activity, and should take precautions.

Since 1993, more than 700 hantavirus cases have been reported in the US.

Hantavirus is extremely rare, and can be deadly. Statistics show a 38% case fatality rate for humans infected by the disease which affects the lungs. Flu-like symptoms that can appear one to eight weeks after exposure can include muscle aches, particularly in the large muscle groups of the thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders. Later symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath, with the sensation of, as one survivor put it, a “…tight band around my chest and a pillow over my face” as the lungs fill with fluid.

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Anyone with these symptoms after coming in contact with deer mice and their waste should seek medical attention immediately. Although there is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection, if infected individuals are recognized early and receive medical care in an intensive care unit, they may do better.