It's Your Health
This article was produced in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Help on accessing alternative formats, such as Portable Document Format (PDF), Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (PPT) files, can be obtained in the alternate format help section.
Hantaviruses are found in the droppings, urine and saliva of infected rodents and humans can contract the virus from breathing in airborne particles or from being bitten. In Canada, a hantavirus capable of causing disease in humans - named Sin Nombre virus - has been identified in deer mice.
In Canada, although the risk of exposure is low, when it happens, the disease can be very severe. So, it is important to be aware of how you can minimize your risk of exposure.
Hantaviruses are part of a group of viruses called the Bunyaviridae. Exposure to hantaviruses can cause a rare, but often fatal, disease called Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).
Humans are most often exposed to the virus by breathing in contaminated airborne particles. This can occur after sweeping or vacuuming infected areas. It is also possible to be exposed to the virus through rodent bites, if the skin is broken, or through ingestion.
The earliest documented case of HPS in Canada was contracted in Alberta in 1989. Since then, there have been over 70 confirmed cases. Most of the cases occurred in western Canada (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia), except for one case in Quebec. Hantavirus infections contracted by Canadians outside the country have also been recognized, including two fatal cases from South America.
Hantavirus is typically transmitted by breathing in particles in the air from the droppings, urine and saliva of infected rodents. However, there have been a small number of reported cases of HPS believed to have been contracted through rodent bites.
Rodents, themselves, neither get sick nor can they pass along the infection to other animals. Transmission of the virus from person-to-person has not been reported in North America.
The following flu-like symptoms can result from Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS):
Symptoms can appear within 3 to 60 days after exposure. However, the average time it takes for symptoms to appear is 14 to 30 days after exposure. HPS is extremely serious since approximately 30-40% of cases result in death, usually within a few days of the initial symptoms appearing. Those who recover do so rapidly and regain full functioning of their lungs, but long term effects such as fatigue are common.
HPS can progress rapidly into serious lung complications and include the following symptoms:
There is no vaccine, treatment or cure for HPS. However, early detection and medical care is extremely important and can save lives. Those who are infected may be given medication for fever and pain, as well as oxygen therapy.
All rodent droppings should be treated as potentially harmful. The primary strategy for minimizing your risk is to ensure rodent control in the home.
There are things you can do to reduce your risk of being exposed:
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is responsible for providing Canadians with essential information on diseases like HPS.
PHAC conducts testing of hantavirus infections in humans and analysis of trends in HPS cases in Canada. The Agency also conducts field investigations into hantavirus cases across Canada.
National Microbiology Laboratory
Public Health Agency of Canada
1015 Arlington Street
Winnipeg, MB R3E 3P6
Also, see the following:
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*
Original: August 2009
ęHer Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2009