October 5, 2021
The Sin Nombre Hantavirus (SNV) in North America is the most common strain of the rare, but severe Hantavirus that infects humans. This virus causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in those affected. It was originally discovered in the Four Corners region during an outbreak on the Navajo Nation reservation (also identified as Diné) in 1993 caused by deer mice and white footed mice.
Most commonly it is present in the deer mouse that is then spread to a human host through inhalation of airborne feces, urine, saliva, bites, or ingestion of contaminated food or water from infected rodents. The highest risk of exposure comes from entering or cleaning rodent infested structures. Most cases are identified in primarily adult patients in the spring and summer seasons. Currently, there are no person-to-person transmissions reported in the U.S.
The virus presents itself anywhere from one week to five weeks after exposure to the infected rodents. Regardless of history, anyone exposed to a Hantavirus infected rodent is at risk of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome and their doctor should contact the local health department as soon as possible to report the case and discuss possible testing options.
Symptoms can be difficult to notice at first and include fever, chills, body-aches, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It can later progress to include coughing and shortness of breath. Once it develops into hantavirus pulmonary syndrome as it most often does it boasts a remarkably high mortality rate of around 40%.
Precautions can be taken to help reduce the chances of catching the Sin Nombre Hantavirus such as using rubber, nitrile, or latex gloves when cleaning areas with a rodent infestation, ventilating areas for at least 30 minutes before working, and being diligent in wetting areas with a disinfectant or chlorine solution before cleaning.
On June 7 of 2021 an adult female from Washtenaw County Michigan was hospitalized with a serious case of the Sin Nombre Hantavirus. It is suspected that the patient inhaled the virus while cleaning out a residence that had been vacant for two years but had recently been reported as having an active rodent infestation. The woman was treated in the hospital and was recovering when last examined.
Sin Nombre Hantavirus cases are rare and easily avoidable despite how detrimental to one’s health they can be. With a case popping up in Michigan it is recommended that residents remain diligent with taking precautions before cleaning areas that could have a rodent infestation.
A bit closer to home on Alma College’s campus precautions have always been in place to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff. With our very own lab mice present on campus cleaning crews remain thorough in their procedures, especially with current COVID-19 protocols in place. Students can continue to foster a clean and safe campus environment by taking care of their trash often, disinfecting surfaces in their residential rooms, cleaning up after using kitchen areas, and cooperating with janitorial staff.