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Hantavirus

Hantavirus infection is a rare but serious illness. Typical symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, abdominal pain and shortness of breath. These symptoms can occur any time between three days to six weeks (usually around 14 days) after exposure. Infection without symptoms is rare. 


Exposure to hantavirus can cause a rare but often fatal disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). HPS can progress rapidly into serious complications which include the following symptoms: abnormal fall in blood pressure, lungs filling with fluid and severe respiratory failure. There have been 31 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome reported in Saskatchewan since 1994, 10 of which resulted in death.


Hantavirus illness can affect people of all ages and regardless of gender. People are at risk if they come into contact with deer mice, their droppings or nesting materials. Most people are exposed when cleaning out or demolishing enclosed or poorly ventilated buildings that have had mouse infestations (i.e. grain bins, sheds, barns, garages, ventilation systems, trailers, elevators, etc.) or cleaning equipment such combines or vehicles that have been in storage.


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1. About Deer Mice

In western North America, deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are the primary carriers of the particular strain of hantavirus that causes respiratory illness in people.

Deer mice are found throughout Saskatchewan in a variety of indoor and outdoor habitats. They are more common in rural and semi-rural areas than in urban areas. Deer mice construct nests in stumps, hollow tree cavities, under logs, abandoned bird nests, wood piles, old cars or buildings such as sheds, granaries, garages and cottages. They may enter buildings when the weather turns colder.

Compared to house mice or field mice, deer mice have relatively large eyes and ears, long tails and are bicoloured. The belly and underside of their body is white, and the back and upper part of their tail is dark brown or gray.

Deer mouse photo, courtesy of Public Health Agency of Canada



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2. How Hantavirus is spread

Humans are most often exposed to the virus by breathing in air particles contaminated by deer mouse saliva, urine or feces containing infectious hantaviruses. This can occur, for example, after sweeping or vacuuming infected areas.

The virus can also be transmitted by:
  • being bitten by a deer mouse or other infected rodent, if the skin is broken;
  • touching rodent urine, saliva, or droppings;
  • eating food contaminated by infected deer mouse saliva, urine or droppings.

Hantaviruses are rarely, if ever, spread from person to person and this has never been reported in North America. Hantaviruses are not spread from pets or livestock. However, cats and dogs may bring infected deer mice into contact with humans.


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3. Minimize the risk of getting Hantavirus

Exposure to hantavirus can be reduced by avoiding contact with rodents and contaminated airborne particles.
  • Block openings that might allow rodents to enter a building;
  • Store human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids;
  • Be aware of animal droppings and nesting materials when cleaning a home or other building.

When cleaning rodent-infested areas people are advised to reduce the risk of contaminated air particles becoming airborne, and prevent direct contact and inhalation.
  • Ventilate the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning;
  • Use wet mopping methods and wear gloves;
  • Wear goggles and a filter mask when cleaning areas contaminated by droppings in a confined space;
  • Dampen areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach disinfectant and remove droppings with a damp mop or cloth; and
  • Avoid using dry cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air-hosing.

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