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Should Families Start to Worry About Catching Hantavirus?

Should You Worry About the Hantavirus?

Planning a trip to Yosemite? You might want to think about cancelling that.

According to reports, eight visitors who stayed in the legendary national park got sick and three of them died after being exposed to a rodent-borne illness called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. And now another instance of the virus has been found in another part of the country, this time from a cleanup participant on the reality show Hoarders.

So is this some new outbreak that parents should be worried about? How does one become ill with the hantavirus in the first place?

Seven of the eight recent Yosemite cases reportedly occurred when the guests stayed at the “signature” tents in historic Curry Village at the park; the eighth victim stayed in the High Sierra Camps.

The other high-profile case comes via one of the homes of a subject of the reality TV show Hoaders. According to reports, a daughter of a “hoarder” that is being featured on the show tested positive for hantavirus after helping do a clean-up of her mother’s Texas home. The house has since been quarantined.

According to health officials, the rodent-borne illness is not something that can be spread from person to person. The virus is carried via the feces and urine of deer mice, rats and other rodents. It can be transmitted by airborne particles and from ingesting rodent droppings. There is no cure for the hantavirus.

The Huffington Post reports that “Infected people usually have flu-like symptoms including fever, shortness of breath, chills and muscle and body aches. The illness can take six weeks to incubate before rapid acute respiratory and organ failure.”

Scary isn’t it? But is this just a incidence of a tragedy being sensationalized or should we all run out and stock up on rat traps?

The virus was identified back in 1993 and since then there have been 602 cases reported throughout the United States. During the last few months, nine people have contracted the illness. If you look at the numbers, on average, over the last 19 years, about 31 people per year fall ill. So nine people getting the hantavirus in a quarter of a year shouldn’t be unusual. But what makes this different is that this was the first time there was a “cluster” of victims. In previous cases, those who became sick did so from all different “individual exposures.”

The CDC warns that wild mice and rats can carry the virus, but that the “common house mouse” does not. In order to protect yourself and your family from the Hantavirus they suggest the following precautions:

  • Keep a clean home, especially the kitchen (wash dishes, clean counters and floor, and keep food covered in rodent-proof containers).
  • Keep a tight-fitting lid on garbage, and discard uneaten pet food at the end of the day.
  • Set and keep spring-loaded rodent traps near baseboards because rodents tend to run along walls and in tight spaces rather than out in the open.
  • Set Environmental Protection Agency-approved rodenticide with bait under plywood or plastic shelter along baseboards. These are sometimes known as “covered bait stations.” Remember to follow product use instructions carefully, since rodenticides are poisonous to pets and people, too.
  • Seal all entry holes 1/4 inch wide or wider with lath screen or lath metal, cement, wire screening, or other patching materials, inside and out.

Is all this news about the hantavirus something that makes you worry as a parent?


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