Hantaviruses are dangerous infections that are exclusively transmitted by rodents, mice and rats in particular. These viruses are believed to have co-existed along rodents for several thousand years, which is why the animals have built an immunity against the disease.
Even though there are not that many cases of people in the UK who have contracted the virus, the health complications it causes are often painful and may even result in death. That is why it is very important for us to know what a hantavirus infection is, how to stop it from occurring, and how to recognise its symptoms should we fall ill as well.
Origins of the infection: What is a hantavirus?
Where do hantavirus infections come from?
It is hard to trace the exact origin of the infection as it is present in many countries worldwide. Several studies, however, have concluded that each type of hantavirus prefers a particular rodent species.
The deadly Sin Nombre virus, for example, is almost always transmitted by deer mouse droppings or urine. Similarly, there are other virus variations that are carried by cotton, rice, white-footed, and red-backed mice, all of which don’t show any visible signs of the disease.
How do humans contract hantaviruses
The infection is spread via direct or indirect exposure to mouse droppings, saliva, or rodent urine. The first method involves touching the object or eating contaminated food, and the second is much more widespread as it involves the inhalation of virus particles.
There is a third way of contracting the virus, although such cases are extremely rare – receiving a bite by an infected rodent. It is important to note that no other known variety of the infection, with the exception of the Andes hantavirus, can be transmitted from one person to another.
What diseases does the infection cause?
Each hantavirus variety is responsible for a different disease, but there are two common types that stand out. The hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (North & South America) is a severe lung disease that often leads to fatal consequences.
The hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (Europe & Asia) is another dangerous mice droppings disease that can cause kidney failure.
Identifying the threat: Symptoms of a hantavirus infection
What are the symptoms of the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) disease?
The symptoms of this hantavirus in humans appear in 1 to 6 weeks after contracting the infection. Once the virus has been transmitted, the affected person:
- Feels tired and dizzy;
- Experiences fever, chills, and muscle aches;
- May have nausea, abdominal pain, or a heavy cough;
At the later stages of the infection, the individual may also have significant difficulty breathing due to the fluid buildup in the lungs – a medical condition, known as pulmonary edema that can quickly claim a person’s life if not treated in time.
What are the symptoms of the hemorrhagic fever with renal disease?
The symptoms of the second most popular disease from mouse droppings will usually reveal themselves in 1 to 2 weeks after exposure and include:
- Intense headaches, back and stomach pain;
- Fever, chills, nausea, reddened eyes;
- Rashes, blurred vision, low blood pressure;
In extreme scenarios, the virus may even be able to cause internal bleeding.
Avoiding the Infection: Preventive Measures
What can you do to avoid a hantavirus infection?
The chances of getting hantavirus in the UK are quite slim and there is no available vaccine as of yet. Thus, it always pays off to take some safety precautions to protect yourself and your family from harm. Here is what you can do to accomplish this:
- Block off all potential rodent openings in your kitchen, living room, attic, etc.
- Create a habit of storing your food, water, and litter in containers with tightly sealed lids.
- If you have a yard or a garden, make sure that it is tidy all year round to deny mice or rats easy access to your property.
What if the rodents have already entered your property?
If you suspect that your home or workplace is infested, stock up on some mouse traps and place them around the building. Should you encounter any mice droppings, DO NOT sweep or vacuum them away as this will stir up infectious dust! Instead, don a pair of rubber or plastic gloves and get a mask that has a HEPA or an N-100 filter. Cheap painters’ masks are a no-go.
- To safely clean an enclosed area, open the windows for about 30 minutes first.
- Thoroughly spray all feces, dead rodents, and surfaces with a mixture of a commercial disinfectant and 10% chlorine solution (1 ½ cup of chlorine bleach and 1 gallon of water).
- Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as you take off your gloves.
What can you do if you become infected with the virus?
Immediately seek medical attention! When you arrive at your local hospital, make sure to mention that you have had contact with mouse droppings or urine and describe the symptoms in as much detail as possible.
Your medical practitioner will then take blood tests to confirm your suspicions and you may receive respiratory and/or blood pressure support, depending on your condition. Remember that the fatal outcome can be easily avoided if you seek treatment in time.
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