Rodents That Carry the Types of Hantavirus Which Cause HPS In the United States
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings, or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus. Rodent control in and around the home remains the primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infection. Through December 1, 2009, a total of 534 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome have been reported in the United States.
Should you worry a lot about Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome? No, but accurate information will help you to know the risks and then you can practice some common sense prevention strategies.
The Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is a deceptively cute animal, with big eyes and big ears. Its head and body are normally about 2 – 3 inches long, and the tail adds another 2 – 3 inches in length. You may see it in a variety of colors, from gray to reddish brown, depending on its age. The underbelly is always white and the tail has sharply defined white sides. The deer mouse is found almost everywhere in North America. Usually, the deer mouse likes woodlands, but also turns up in desert areas.
The Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus), which you’ll find in the southeastern United States (and way down into Central and South America), has a bigger body than the deer mouse—head and body about 5 – 7 inches, and another 3 – 4 inches for the tail. The hair is longer and coarser, of a grayish brown color, even grayish black. The cotton rat prefers overgrown areas with s hrubs and tall grasses.
The Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris) is slightly smaller than the cotton rat, having a head and body 5 – 6 inches long, plus a very long, 4- to 7-inch tail. Rice rats s port short, soft, grayish brown fur on top, and gray or tawny underbellies. Their feet are whitish. As you might expect from the name, this rat likes marshy areas and is semiaquatic. It’s found in the southeastern United States and in Central America.
The White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) is hard to distinguish from the deer mouse. The head and body together are about four inches long. Note that its tail is normally shorter than its body (about 2 – 4 inches long). Topside, its fur ranges from pale brown to reddish brown, while its underside and feet are white. The white-footed mouse is found through southern New England, the Mid-Atlantic and southern states, the midwestern and western states, and Mexico. It prefers wooded and brushy areas, although sometimes it will live in more open ground.
Both the deer mouse and the cotton rat usually live in rural areas, but can also be found in cities when conditions are right, such as easy availability of food, water and shelter.
Other Rodents May Also Carry Hantavirus
Other rodents carry strains of hantavirus that cause HPS, but they have not yet been identified. In addition, other rodent species may play host to other types of hantaviruses that cause a different type of infection, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, or HFRS.
It is wise, therefore, to avoid close contact with rodents in general.
Who Is at Risk of Getting HPS, and Why?
Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantavirus is at risk of HPS. Rodent infestation in and around the home remains the primary risk for hantavirus exposure. Even healthy individuals are at risk for HPS infection if exposed to the virus.
The last thing anyone wants to see crawling through their home is a mouse. But if you have them, call a Minnesota Wild Animal Management Expert; they are experts at mice removal in a humane way.