White Sands Missile Range > Public Affairs > What´s Up at White Sands > Precautions for avoiding deadly hantavirus


Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a serious, often deadly, respiratory disease found mostly in rural areas of the Western United States. It was made famous in 1993 with the outbreak and subsequent deaths in the four-corners area.

White Sands Missile Range has many buildings and sites which are potential sites for finding hantavirus. Employees are warned about the potential danger they face at these facilities through the range´s safety program.

The disease is carried by rodents, primarily deer mice and cotton and rice rats. It is transmitted by a virus found in rodent urine, saliva and feces. The virus enters the air as a mist from urine and saliva or from dust created when the feces is moved.

Breathing in the virus is the most common way of becoming infected; however, you can also become infected by touching the mouth and nose after handling contaminated material.

Exposure to the virus can occur when people live, work or play in closed-in spaces where rodents are active.

Diagram: Hantavirus CCycle

Symptoms of HPS usually appear within two weeks of infection, but can appear as early as three days after infection or as late as six weeks afterwards.

The first symptoms are general and flu-like fever, from I01 to 104 degrees; headache; abdominal, joint and lower-back pain; and some nausea and vomiting.

The primary symptom of the disease is difficulty breathing, caused by the fluid build-up in the lungs. That quickly progresses to an inability to breathe.

The mortality rate is about 50 percent and there is no cure or vaccine available yet. The sooner after infection that medical treatment is sought, the better the chance of recovery.

The best way to prevent the disease is to eliminate or minimize contact with rodents, making your home, work place or recreation area unattractive and inaccessible to them. Here are some tips.

*Keep a clean home, especially in the kitchen. Keep dishes washed, counters and floors clean, and food covered in rodent-proof containers.

*Keep a tight-fitting lid on garbage and discard uneaten pet food at the end of the day.

*Set and keep spring-loaded rodent traps. Remember to follow product instructions carefully when using rodenticides. They are poisonous to pets and people. Trap rodents, outside, too

*Seal all entry holes with steel wool, cement, wire screening or other patching material, both inside and outside.

*Clear brush, grass and junk from around house foundations to eliminate a source of nesting materials.

*Encourage natural predators such as non-poisonous snakes, owls and hawks.

When cleaning up infested or potentially infested areas, use the following safety precautions:

*Wear latex rubber gloves when cleaning up.

*Don´t stir up dust by sweeping up or vacuuming up Droppings, urine or nesting materials. Instead, thoroughly wet the contaminated areas with detergent or disinfectant to deactivate the virus. For large areas, use a 10 percent household laundry bleach solution -- three tablespoons of bleach for each gallon of water. By doing this, you are killing the virus itself and reducing the chance it can get into the air.

*Once everything is wet, take up contaminated materials with a damp cloth, then mop or sponge the area with disinfectant.

*Spray dead rodents with disinfectant, then double bag the remains along with all cleaning materials and bury them or dispose of them in an appropriate waste disposal system.

*Finally, disinfect the gloves with disinfectant or soap and water before taking them off.

When entering cabins or outside buildings or work areas that have been closed for awhile, open them up and air out for about 30 minutes before cleaning them.

Information for this article was provided by the Center for Disease Control. For more information, visit the center´s hantavirus web site at http://

This page was last updated on 10/26/2018 2:23 PM