Texas Urged to take Precautions against Hantavirus

Texas health officials confirmed the state’s first case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome this year in a resident of the Texas Panhandle. The Texas Department of State Health Services reminds people to protect themselves from the virus that causes HPS. Although the person recovered from the infection, HPS is often severe and sometimes fatal.

Hantavirus is carried by certain species of rats and mice that shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus can be transmitted to people when infected rat or mouse urine, droppings, saliva or nesting materials are stirred up, allowing the virus to be breathed in by humans. The illness is rare, but HPS cases are frequently associated with spring cleaning.

DSHS recommends the following precautions:

  • Seal openings that may allow rats and mice to enter homes and workplaces.
  • Remove brush, woodpiles, trash and other items that may attract rats and mice.
  • Tightly close garbage cans, pet food containers, and other food sources.
  • Before cleaning up nests or droppings found inside, open windows and doors to ventilate the area for at least 30 minutes.
  • If any dust will be stirred up, goggles and a HEPA or N-95 mask are recommended.
  • Wear protective gloves to handle dead mice and rats or to clean up nesting areas, urine or droppings.
  • Do not stir up dust by sweeping or vacuuming. Dampen areas before cleanup with either a 1-to-10 bleach-water mixture or another effective disinfectant, in order to eliminate dust and begin inactivating the virus. After 30 minutes, apply the mixture again and immediately begin the cleaning process.
  • Use the same bleach mixture or disinfectant and apply to dead rodents, nests, urine and droppings before cleaning with the same 30 minute interval and reapplication process.

Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fatigue, fever and muscle aches. These symptoms may be accompanied by headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Later symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath. If hantavirus infection is suspected, people should contact their health care provider immediately and inform the practitioner of exposure to rodents, their waste and/or nesting material.

Including this case, a total of 45 HPS cases have been confirmed in Texas since 1993. Half of the reported cases were residents of the Panhandle or South Plains areas. Of the 45 cases, 15 resulted in death.