What Is Hantavirus?

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a respiratory disease caused by a virus known as Sin Nombre Virus. The virus is carried by wild rodents, especially deer mice. The virus produces no clinical symptoms in the deer mice, but can produce a deadly infection in man – over 50 percent of human cases have been fatal.

Routes of Infection

Humans become infected with the hantavirus when they inhale dust which has been contaminated with rodent urine. Most individuals who have become infected have lived or worked in areas that were heavily contaminated with rodent droppings. Campgrounds, abandoned cabins, and other areas that have become infested with high populations of wild rodents should be considered risky. Digging up a rodent nest, trapping wild rodents, or performing necropsies on wild rodents would also be considered risky activities.

If a human being becomes infected, signs of illness usually appear about two weeks after exposure, although the time can range from a few days to as long as six weeks. The first signs are fever, headache, and pain in the abdomen, joints, and back. Afterwards, the patient’s lungs begin to fill with fluid and breathing becomes extremely difficult. A high proportion of the patients die, but early treatment offers the best chance of survival. If you develop symptoms that are suspicious of HPS, and you have worked with or been around wild rodents within the last six weeks, report this information to your physician immediately.


Most individuals who have contracted HPS have acquired the disease by living and sleeping in areas where there are large populations of rodents and copious quantities of dust contaminated with their feces. In a research setting, there is also risk associated with individuals that work with wild rodents.