Causes of a hantavirus infection

Explore the cause of hantavirus infections, how the viruses are spread and where they are found.

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What causes hantavirus infection?

Hantaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause severe illness in humans. People can become infected with a hantavirus when they:

  • inhale virus particles from rodent urine, droppings or saliva that have been released into the air
    • this can happen when rodent waste is stirred up from vacuuming or sweeping
  • touch objects or eat food contaminated with the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents
  • are bitten by a rodent infected with a hantavirus (this is rare)

With the exception of the Andes hantavirus, the virus does not spread through person-to-person contact.

What diseases can you get from a hantavirus infection?

There are several different types of hantaviruses found around the world, and each can cause a different disease.

The 2 most common diseases caused by a hantavirus infection are:

  1. hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (found in North and South America)
  2. haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (found mainly in Europe and Asia)

How are hantaviruses spread?

People get the virus from infected mice, rats and other rodents. Different types of rodent carry different types of hantaviruses. In North America, 5 rodents are known to carry hantaviruses. These include:

  1. deer mouse
  2. cotton rat
  3. rice rat
  4. white-footed mouse
  5. red-backed vole

The deer mouse, white-footed mouse and red-backed vole are widespread in parts of Canada.

Other rodents around the world are also carriers of a variety of hantaviruses. For this reason, it is best to avoid close contact with rodents in Canada and abroad.

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