About 5 percent of the population, in the United States and around the world, displays at least some evidence of suffering from clinical hoarding. Hoarding is defined as a disorder defined by a persistent difficulty in parting with or discarding possessions due to some perceived, compelling need to save them, according to the Mayo Clinic. A person afflicted with hoarding disorder experiences notable distress at the very thought of departing with items. The net effect is the excessive accumulation of items, even if they do not have any real value, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Hoarding results in other concerns beyond the medical and psychological issues. The excessive accumulation of property oftentimes results in sanitary and other problems. For example, hoarding can cause an associated rodent infestation. This can include mice or rats.
The presence of rodents in a property, including a residence, can have serious health consequences. Rodent droppings have the potential for carrying a number of different types of diseases, including the hantavirus.
Overview of Diseases Spread by Rodents and Their Droppings
A number of diseases are spread by mice and rats, many of these ailments through their droppings. Historically, one of the most infamous diseases spread by rodents is the bubonic plague. Rats are infected with the bubonic plague far more often than are mice. Nonetheless, both types of rodents are capable of spreading the diseases.
Unlike many rodent-borne diseases, bubonic plague is spread by fleas associated with rats or mice. There has been a resurgence in the incidence of bubonic plague in recent years. Bubonic plague in the United States is largely confined to the Western United States.
The bubonic plague was known as the Black Death between 1346 and 1353. The bubonic plague, during this seven year time period, remains one of the most devastating pandemics in all of human history, according to the History Channel. Although precise numbers are impossible to pin down, between 75 and 200 million people in Europe and Asia died of the bubonic plague during this time period. Once a human was infected with the plague, it could be spread by sneezing and coughing. In today’s world, bubonic plague is easily treatable with antibiotics.
Another disease spread by rodents is salmonella. Both rats and mice spread this disease through their droppings. Typically, salmonella is spread when rodent droppings somehow make contact with food. Salmonella can cause severe gastroenteritis, which is highly unpleasant but usually not fatal.
Murine typhus is yet another disease that is spread by rodents. As is the case with bubonic plague, murine typhus is spread through associated fleas.
Other diseases that are caused by rodents include leptospirosis and lymphocytic chorio-meningitis. Mice are hosts to small tapeworms which can pass to humans through their droppings.
One of the most commonplace, and oftentimes serious, diseases spread by rodent droppings is the hantavirus. Because of the serious nature of hantavirus, the disease will be discussed more fully in a moment.
In the United States, hantavirus is commonly spread by four types of rodents. These are the Deer Mouse, Cotton Rat, Rice Rat, and White-footed Mouse. These species of rodents can be found nearly anywhere in the United States. Some of these rodents are more prevalent in certain parts of the country than in others.
Exposure to the hantavirus via rat droppings and urine can happen through direct exposure to this waste and other means as well. In addition, foot items can be exposed rat droppings or urine, which can result in the spread of the hantavirus through food.
A person who hoards raises the odds that he or she will be exposed to rodent droppings. The heightened exposure to rodent droppings similarly raises the chances that a person who hoards will be infected with a disease, including hantavirus.
What is the Hantavirus?
Hantavirus is classified as what medically is known as a RNA virus, according to the Mayo Clinic. The virus is named for the first major outbreak, which occurred in the Hantan River area in South Korea.
The hantavirus is carried in rodents particularly the Deer Mouse. The Deer Mouse is present across the United States. Although rodents carry the hantavirus, the do not become infected by it.
As mentioned previously, the hantavirus spreads to humans through urine droppings. It can also spread through rodent urine.
Direct contact with rodent waste can cause a hantavirus infection in humans. However, most people actually become infected with hantavirus by breathing air that is infested with the hantavirus via the presence of rodent excrement in a room or space. In other words, direct contact with rodent feces or urine is not necessary to contract hantavirus.
Hantavirus can result in a person suffering one of two different potentially fatal conditions. Hantavirus can cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome as well as hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome.
Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome
Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome is also known as Korean hemorrhagic fever. As mentioned previously, a person contracts hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome by exposure to rodent droppings and urine, including exposure to the air in a room in which droppings and urine have accumulated. Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome is most often seen as a result of exposure to hantavirus in Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is not considered to be a significant problem in the United States.
Symptoms associated with hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome usually begin to appear about one to two weeks after exposure. There are rare instances when hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome can develop after about two months.
Initial symptoms of hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome include severe headaches coupled with back and abdominal pain. Early symptoms also include fever, chills, nausea, and blurred vision.
As Hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome develops further, a person can experience low blood pressure, acute shock, vascular leakage, and acute kidney failure. When acute kidney failure occurs, a person’s body can experience a fluid overload, which can be fatal.
Provided medical treatment is initiated promptly, a person suffering from hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome can recover. However, completely recovery can take weeks and even months.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
In the United States, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome occurs far more frequently than hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome when a person is exposed to the hantavirus. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is also known as Black Creek Canal virus and New York virus. There have been significant outbreaks of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome in Florida and New York.
As mentioned previously, the hantavirus is the cause of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Exposure to rodent feces and urine causes infection with the hantavirus in the first instance. As noted previously, infection with the virus can also occur in an airborne manner in a space containing rodent droppings and urine.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome was first recognized in the United States in 1993 when an outbreak occurred in the Four Corners region of the country. After the initial outbreak, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome has occurred across the United States.
Symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome include fever and cough. Oftentimes, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome initially is mistaken for the flu. Other symptoms include headache, lethargy, and shortness of breath.
Shortness of breath will rapidly become more pronounced. As a person’s respiration deteriorates, he or she can suffer acute respiratory failure. Although hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can be treated successfully in many cases, it nonetheless has a fatality rate in the United States of about 38 percent.
If you begin to experience these symptoms, you need to seek medical attention promptly. If you believe you have been exposed to rodents, or their droppings or urine, you must be certain to provide that information to your doctor.
Make no mistake that hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can rapidly become life-threatening. As the lungs fill with fluid, a person has increasing more difficulty breathing. Blood pressure drops. In a relatively short period of time, organs begin to fail. The heart is particularly at risk when a person is afflicted with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
Absent information about exposure to rodents, or their droppings or urine, can make an initial correct diagnosis of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome challenging for a doctor. Ultimately, a blood test can determine if a person has developed antibodies to hantavirus.
Treatment of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome usually involves supportive efforts to help address the virus and help with breathing. If a person has a more severe case of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, he or she is likely to be admitted to the hospital, and likely the intensive care unit.
If a person’s symptoms are severe, intubation and mechanical ventilation may be required. Intubation involves the placement of a breathing tube through a patient’s nose or mouth into the windpipe.
In the worst case scenario, a treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation may be needed. This involves pumping a patient’s blood through a machine to remove removes carbon dioxide and add oxygen.
How to Protect Yourself from Hantavirus
There are definite steps that you can take to protect yourself from hantavirus. The key to protecting yourself from the virus is avoiding exposure to rodents.
One of the most important tactics you can employ to prevent exposure to rodents is keeping your residence appropriately clean and free of clutter. For example, a person who accumulates unnecessary items in a residence, including to the point of demonstrating evidence of hoarding, runs the risk of providing a haven for rodents. Eliminate the clutter and you will take an important step to prevent the lodging of rodents in the premises and remove the risk of exposure to hantavirus.
You also need to take care when you are cleaning a building, including a residential property, commercial property, or storage shed. Even if you have not been exposed to the hantavirus previously, the act of cleaning a space can disturb rodent droppings and urine, causing hantavirus to be released into the air. You need to wear proper protection when you intend to embark on a cleaning project to ensure protection against exposure to hantavirus. In the alternative, you might want to consider retaining the services of a skilled, experienced professional to address a more significant cleanup project, including one in which you fear rodents may be or have been present.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains specific information on the type of protective garments and face coverings that are suitable for protection against hantavirus when embarking in a cleaning project. Specifically, these protective garments must be crafted to protect the passage of hantavirus to your skin. A face covering must thoroughly block the passage of airborne virus into your body. The protective garments and face covering must also be disposable.
If you must deal with heavy rodent infestation, you will need more significant equipment. You should utilize a respirator if you must clean an area infested with rodents, or that once was infested with rats or mice.
The need for proper protective gear, and the appropriate disposal of it, underscores the importance of engaging the services of a professional if you have to cleanup a space you reasonably believe may be home to rodents or otherwise may be contaminated by rodent droppings and urine.