HHSA & Environmental Management

Margaret Williams

(530) 642-7164

​El Dorado County Health Officials Urge Precautions

to Avoid Hantavirus

(Placerville, CA) – El Dorado County health officials are reminding individuals to take precautions when entering cabins, trailers and other buildings that may be infested with rodents after the recent death of a Placer County resident from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

"Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a rare, but often fatal disease spread by rodents," said El Dorado County Health Officer, Dr. Nancy Williams. "The chances of getting the virus are greatest when spending time in buildings or other closed spaces where wild rodents are present. Cleaning those environments can pose extra risk if precautions are not taken."

HPS is caused by a virus that people can get through contact with the urine, droppings or saliva of wild rodents, primarily deer mice. Breathing small particles of mouse urine or droppings that have become airborne is the most common means of infection. The illness begins with fever, headache, and muscle aches and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty breathing and, in some cases, death.

According the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), a total of 75 HPS cases were reported in the State from February 1980 through November 2017. About a third of HPS cases identified in California have been fatal.

The last known case of hantavirus in El Dorado County occurred in 2007. That person recovered. Prompt diagnosis and medical treatment increase an individual's chances of recovery.

To prevent HPS, the CDPH recommends the following precautions:

  • Avoid contact with all wild rodents, their droppings, and nesting materials.
  • Before entering an enclosed area that may be infested with rodents, allow it to air out for at least 30 minutes. 
  • Do not dry sweep or vacuum areas that rodents have potentially contaminated.
  • Surfaces that rodents may have contaminated with urine or droppings should be made wet with a 10% bleach solution or a commercial disinfectant following label directions, then mopped up.
  • Promptly dispose of all cleaning materials when done, and thoroughly wash hands and clothes.
  • Examine the outsides of all buildings and seal any holes or other openings that would let rodents get inside.
  • Store all food items securely in rodent-proof containers.

In addition to hantavirus, people in recreational areas should take precautions to reduce exposure to plague, which is carried by other wild rodents, such as squirrels and chipmunks, and their fleas, and can cause several types of serious illness, including respiratory illness and blood infections, and can be fatal. Plague activity was confirmed in South Lake Tahoe in 2015 and 2016. Steps the public can take to reduce the risk of acquiring plague include:

  • Never feed squirrels, chipmunks or other rodents and never touch sick or dead rodents.
  • Avoid walking, hiking or camping near rodent burrows.
  • Wear long pants tucked into socks or boots to reduce exposure to fleas.
  • Spray insect repellent containing DEET on socks and pant cuffs to reduce exposure to fleas.

 To protect against both hantavirus and plague, keep wild rodents out of homes, trailers and outbuildings, and away from pets.

 For additional information about preventing HPS, please visit CDPH's webpage and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Website. For information on plague, visit this CDPH webpage.


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