BISMARCK, ND (KXNET) — The North Dakota Department of Health is reporting an extremely rare case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in a child in eastern North Dakota.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or HPS, is a viral infection that is usually spread by infected rodents through urine, droppings, and saliva when someone breathes in contaminated air, or after being bitten by an infected rodent. Symptoms of HPS usually begin two to three weeks after infection and begin with fevers, muscle and body aches, chills, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and vomiting. Shortly after symptoms start, the lungs will begin to fill with fluid, resulting in coughing, shortness of breath, and eventually necessary hospitalization.

Since the virus was first recognized in 1993, there have only been 19 cases (including the referenced case) of HPS reported to the NDDoH, with three of them being in children. Eight of the 19 reported cases were fatal. Only 833 cases across the United States have been reported to health groups through December 2020, but 35% of these resulted in death. Thankfully, the child in question has since recovered, but it’s best to learn how to prevent more cases from breaking out in the future.

“People are most often exposed to hantavirus when they inhale dust while cleaning or occupying previously vacant cabins, sheds, or other dwellings and outbuildings that contain rodents, rodent droppings, and rodent nests,” said NDDoH Division of Epidemiology and Infectious Diseases’ Levi Schlosser in a press release. “Currently, only supportive treatment exists for hantavirus disease, so it is important to be wary of rodent infestations to properly prevent infection.” 

When fall cleaning time comes around, there’s a good chance that outdoor buildings will be taken care of. But these places could be infested with rodents, meaning exposure to hantavirus in the area is far more likely to occur. To help stave off the disease, the NDDoH has a few tips to give anyone cleaning their buildings to help reduce the risk of infection.

  • Ventilate the space: open doors and windows 30 minutes before cleaning begins.
  • Wear gloves and use disinfectant when cleaning out rodent droppings, dead rodents, or nests.
  • Clean floors, cabinets, drawers, and countertops with disinfectant.
  • Do not sweep or vacuum up droppings, urine, or nesting materials, as this will stir up dust.
  • Do not let children play in areas or buildings where rodents may be present.
  • Use a commercial disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency,

For more information on HPS, please contact Levi Schlosser at 701-328-2378. A fact sheet containing ways to help minimize the risk of infection is available to access through this file.