Prevent Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

Hantavirus may occur at any time during the year, but most local cases have occurred during the months of April through August.

As spring/summer weather approaches, it is important to review the steps the public can take to prevent Hantavirus cases from occurring. “A major strategy is to avoid contact with rodents, including mice, rodent droppings, or rodent nests”

As people do spring/summer cleaning and open up dwellings that have been closed for the winter, it is very important to air out hogans and buildings, seal openings around the house to discourage rodents from entering, use traps or rodent bait to reduce rodents; and, clean using wet cleaning methods to avoid raising dust.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a severe viral disease carried by several species of rodents in this area. The most common carrier is the deer mouse; but several other local species can carry the disease. The best advice is to avoid all rodents, rodent nests, and items contaminated by rodents and rodent droppings.

Breathing dust that has the saliva, urine, or feces of rodents mainly transmits the disease. Rodent bites may also be a way to transmit the disease. Local studies conducted during and since the 1993 outbreak of HPS in the Navajo Area have shown that contact with rodents and rodent droppings place a person at greater risk of developing HPS.

Entering and cleaning rodent infested rooms and spaces that have been closed up for extended periods of time are also a high-risk activity. Examples of such exposure include entering summer dwellings, storage buildings, abandoned cars, barns or sheds that have been closed up all winter.

Early symptoms of HPS are similar to influenza-commonly referred to as the flu. Only medical examinations and laboratory tests can tell the difference between the two diseases in the early stages, HPS rapidly progresses into a severe respiratory disease and has proven fatal in many cases.

Early diagnosis and rapid transfer to a critical care facility has been shown to reduce the fatality rate. There is currently no vaccine or cure for Hantavirus infection, but steps can be taken to reduce the risk of getting the disease.

Four Steps To Reduce your Risk Of Getting Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS):


When entering buildings that have been closed up for an extended time, or which are infested with rodents, open doors and allow the building to air out thoroughly for several hours before entering. Avoid creating dust that could be inhaled.


Reduce rodent habitat in and around your home to discourage rodents. Keep food (including pet food) in rodent-proof containers. Keep woodpiles and other debris at least 100 feet from your home. Seal up any opening into your home that is larger than ¼ inch (about the size of a dime) to keep rodents out.


Trap or use rodent bait to reduce the number of rodents in and around your home. When trapping rodents, use spring traps and discard the rodent into a plastic garbage bag after first disinfecting the dead rodent and trap. Use rubber gloves when handling the trapped rodent. Disinfect the area (especially urine and droppings) with a disinfectant that kills viruses.


Use only wet cleaning methods to avoid creating dust. If you need to clean rodent nests or droppings, spray them with a disinfectant such as chlorine bleach, a phenol-type spray such as Lysol, or other chemicals labeled to kill viruses to disinfect the area and material. Thoroughly wet the rodent nests and surrounding area with disinfectant solution before cleaning. Do not use a vacuum cleaner. Commercially steam clean or shampoo carpets. To avoid carpet damage, do not use chlorine bleach solution. Clothing or bedding contaminated by rodents should be laundered. Don’t shake the clothing out prior to laundering. Wear rubber gloves (re-usable or disposable) while cleaning rodent droppings, nests, or objects contaminated with rodent droppings. Finally, disinfect all reusable materials after clean-up.

For additional information, contact the Navajo Nation Epidemiology Program, Environmental Health Office, Community Health Representative Office or Public Health Nursing.