Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome


Warm spring weather is the ideal time for cleaning barns, outbuildings, cabins, and other areas where mice and other rodents live. When you clean it is important to protect yourself from being infected with the hantavirus that causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), a serious, often deadly, respiratory disease. 



Hantavirus is carried by certain wild rodents. Infected rodents excrete the hantavirus in their urine, droppings, and saliva. These contaminate dirt and dust that gets into the air. People are infected by breathing in the hantavirus contaminated air or touching their mouth or nose after handling contaminated materials. A rodent’s bite can also spread the virus.


HPS, which is deadly in nearly half of the cases, begins with high fever, severe body aches, headache and vomiting. The onset of these symptoms begins from one week to six weeks after exposure.


Initially, there are no respiratory symptoms present. Symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion and a cough that produces phlegm are not associated with hantavirus infection. However, within one to five days, the illness quickly progresses to respiratory distress, including a dry cough and difficulty breathing caused by the lungs filling with fluid. If you have had exposure to rodents and become ill with these symptoms, it is very important to tell your physician about the rodent exposure.


When hantavirus infection is suspected or confirmed, early admission to a hospital where careful monitoring, treatment of symptoms and supportive therapy can be provided is vitally important. Because no effective treatment exists for the disease, prevention is the key to avoiding hantavirus.


Do not sweep or vacuum up mouse or rat urine, droppings, or nests. This will cause hantavirus particles to go into the air where they can be inhaled.


When cleaning out barns, sheds, cabins, etc.

  • Open all doors and windows and leave them open for 30 minutes before cleaning.
  • ALWAYS wear rubber or plastic gloves.
  • Consider using a face mask with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, especially in heavily rodent-infested areas or situations where ventilation cannot be effectively done.  Read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for the mask.
  • Clean up all rodent urine, droppings, nests, or dead mice or rats by spraying them with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water. Let it soak for 10 minutes. If using a general-purpose household disinfectant make sure “disinfectant” is written on the label. The bleach and water solution can be made by mixing 1 ½ cups of household bleach in 1 gallon of water or 1 part bleach and 9 parts water for smaller amounts.
  • Use a paper towel to wipe up the urine or droppings.
  • Mop or sponge the area with a disinfectant or bleach solution.
  • Place nesting materials or trap with the dead rodent in a plastic bag. If you plan to reuse the trap, get the mouse or rat out of the trap by holding it over the bag and lifting the metal bar. Let the mouse or rat drop in the bag. Disinfect the trap.
  • Double-bag the rodent, trap, droppings, and cleaning materials and seal bags.
  • Throw the bag into a covered trash can that is regularly emptied.
  • Mop floors or spray dirt floors with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water.
  • Clean countertops, cabinets, and drawers with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water.
  • Steam clean, shampoo, or spray upholstered furniture with a detergent, disinfectant, or a mixture of bleach and water.
  • Wash any bedding and clothing with laundry detergent in hot water if you see any mouse or rat urine or droppings on them.
  • Wash gloved hands with soap and water or spray a disinfectant or bleach solution on gloves before taking them off.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water after taking off your gloves.


For additional information on cleaning up heavy rodent infestations, air ducts, contaminated fabrics, books, etc., visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/rodents/cleaning/index.html.