Will rainfall increase hantavirus risk?

After the El Niño climate phenomenon brought a wet winter to parts of the Southwest, will there be more cases of the rodent-borne hantavirus? The Utah Department of Health reported a Utah man in the 45- to 65-year-old age range died in May – the sixth hantavirus death in the state since 2009. “One case doesn’t suggest an outbreak, but given that some areas have received above-average precipitation, it is possible that there may be a greater risk of hantavirus this year,” says Denise Dearing, distinguished professor and chair of biology at the U. For about a decade starting in 2000, Dearing studied hantavirus in deer mice in central Utah. “We found that mouse density and the prevalence of hantavirus were positively correlated with rainfall,” she says. Another study “found that deer mice with ‘bolder’ personality traits were more likely to be infected than deer mice that were classified as ‘shy,’” but didn’t identify why. Dearing says people concerned about hantavirus and exposure to mouse droppings – a primary route for humans inhaling the virus in dust – should consult websites of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Utah Department of Health.

Denise Dearing |office 801-585-1298, cell 801-554-6342 | dearing@biology.utah.edu