Deadly Hantavirus Could Be the Next Scary Plague -- Here's What You Need to Know

deer mouse
Deer mouse is cute but deadly!
So, not to rain on your fun plans to go camping and be all outdoors-y this fall, but the whole hantavirus epidemic thing? Well, the fact that it's now being referred to as an epidemic should tell you where I'm going with this one. Yosemite National Park expanded its hantavirus warning to include some 22,000 visitors (more than twice the original number of 10,000) who may have been exposed to the potentially fatal mouse-borne disease. The number of confirmed cases is now up to eight; three deaths have been reported.

Oh-kay. Between the mouse flu and that kid getting charged by a bison, I'm gonna say cancelling any Yosemite-related excursions would be a wise move at this point. Still, hantavirus can be found anywhere and this once "rare" illness is clearly on the upswing: Since it was discovered in 1993, there have been only 602 reported cases (216 of which were fatal).

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Now, suddenly, eight cases at Yosemite -- and another possible case in Texas, where a woman cleaning out a home for the TLC show Hoarders: Buried Alive is recovering from suspected hantavirus! Blech!! What IS hantavirus, and how do we avoid getting it?!

According to the CDC, hantavirus is carried mostly by deer mice and is spread to humans through contact with infected mice feces, urine, or saliva (ewwwww). Interestingly, there are no known cases of hantavirus being spread from human to human, which almost made me feel hopeful for a second (oh, maybe it's not sooo super-contagious and/or threatening) until I remembered that the bubonic plague isn't transmitted from person to person, either. Anyway.

Symptoms:

Symptoms may appear anywhere from 1 to 5 weeks after exposure and go quickly from bad to worse.

Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches, especially in the large muscle groups—thighs, hips, back, and sometimes shoulders, headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.

Late symptoms can appear anywhere between 4 and 10 days after the initial phase of infection, and include coughing and severe shortness of breath.

Prevention:

The CDC says to "eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite." How?

1. Seal up holes and gaps in your home, cabin, or tent.

2. Place traps around your home or campsite to decrease rodent infestation.

3. Clean up any easy-to-get food that might attract rodents.

Treatment:

Um, yeah. About that. There kind of isn't really a treatment for hantavirus, although "the earlier the patient is brought in to intensive care, the better."

So, obvs, if you think you might have been exposed to hantavirus, go get tested ASAP -- and regard deer mice as your mortal enemies from now on.

Why do you think there's been a sudden spike in hantavirus cases?

 

Image via C G-K/Flickr

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