1 dies, 1 recovers from hantavirus in King County

Deer mouse: Determined to be one of the reservoirs and transmitters of the hantavirus.

Hantavirus, which can lead to a rare disease, has emerged in King County.

A man in his 30s from Issaquah died as a result of hantavirus infection in February and a woman in her 50s from Redmond was diagnosed with it in December. She has recovered.

Hantavirus is carried primarily by deer mice and can cause a rare but deadly disease called Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, or HPS.

People can get HPS by breathing in hantavirus, which can happen when dust from dried rodent urine, saliva and droppings containing hantavirus are stirred up in the air.

According to the King County Health Department, people can also get infected by touching rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials that contain the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. It’s also possible to get HPS from a rodent bite. The disease does not spread from person to person.

The last known case in King County was in 2003.

The King County Health Department released this information about hantavirus:

Potential risk activities for HPS include:

  • Opening or cleaning previously unused buildings, cabins, sheds, barns, garages and storage facilities (including those which have been closed during the winter) is a potential risk for hantavirus infections, especially in rural settings.
  • Housecleaning activities in and around homes with rodent infestations.
  • Work-related exposure: Construction, utility and pest control workers can be exposed when they work in crawl spaces, under houses, or in vacant buildings that may have a rodent population.
  • Campers and hikers: Campers and hikers can be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats.

The chance of being exposed to hantavirus is greatest when people work, play, or live in closed spaces where rodents are actively living. Many people who have contracted HPS reported that they had not seen rodents or their droppings before becoming ill. Therefore, if you live in an area where the deer mice are known to live, take precautions to prevent rodent infestations even if you do not see rodents or their droppings.

Symptoms of hantavirus:

If you have been exposed to rodents or rodent infested buildings and have symptoms, see your doctor immediately and tell them about your possible rodent exposure. Symptoms begin 1-8 weeks after inhaling the virus. It typically starts with 3-5 days of illness that is similar to the flu, including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.  As the disease gets worse, it causes coughing and shortness of breath. People with hantavirus are usually hospitalized, and about one out of three people diagnosed with HPS have died.

Preventing hantavirus

Keep wild rodents out of your home and workplace by removing their sources of food, water, and shelter. If you do have a rodent infestation, it's important to take precautions to safely clean up the area. Learn specifically how to prevent rodent infestation and clean up rodent infestations at Public Health's hantavirus factsheet and the CDC website

Heavy rodent infestations

Public Health should be consulted (at 206-263-9566) and special precautions are suggested for cleaning homes or buildings with:

  • heavy rodent infestations (piles of feces, numerous nests or dead rodents)
  • vacant dwellings that have attracted rodents while unoccupied
  • dwellings and other structures that have been occupied by persons with confirmed hantavirus infection.

Public Health recommends hiring professional pest control services in these situations.

Rodent infestations in cars

There have been reports of rodent infestations in vehicles as a possible means of hantavirus exposure. The same principles that are described for cleaning a home infested with rodents would apply to cleaning a vehicle infested with rodents.

More information

For more information and specific instructions to avoid rodents and clean up after an infestation, visit Public Health's Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hantavirus web site  is a good source of information on hantavirus risk, transmission, symptoms and prevention measures.

Information from the Washington State Department of Health on hantavirus is available at http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Hantavirus

In addition, read the Public Health Insider for our 2015 article https://publichealthinsider.com/2015/10/30/hunting-a-haunting-virus/ about the search for hantavirus.

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