A rodent-borne illness called hantavirus was in the news last week, with four confirmed cases and two deaths occurring among tourists who stayed in cabins at Yosemite National Park in Northern California this summer. Park officials sent letters and e-mails to 1,700 visitors who recently stayed in the rustic tent cabins, warning that they might have been exposed to the virus as well.
How worried should Boston residents be about hantavirus, which can cause life-threatening pneumonia and has no treatment?
Not very, said Dr. Al DeMaria, an infectious disease specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “The one recent case of hantavirus that I recall in Massachusetts was acquired out of state.”
The virus thrives in drier climates out West and in mountainous regions, and fortunately does not spread from person to person, so those who might have been exposed to it don’t need to be quarantined.
That said, there are plenty of other disease-causing microbes carried by mice and other rodents, such as hemorrhagic fever, salmonella, and a form of meningitis. If you encounter any animal droppings while doing late-summer cleaning in your garage, basement, or tool shed, wear a mask and gloves, and use a disinfectant to clean them up.