4 Diseases You Can Catch From Mice

I'm still shaking my head and laughing at the tenacious Redditor who "rescued" a mouse last week. And who is staunchly defending their actions against all the sane and sensible people who point out that wild mice should be left outside. No really, the mice are fine!

Domestic mice make lovely pets. But wild mice, like field mice, deer mice, and the house mouse, are ridiculously efficient vectors for disease.

1. Hantavirus
The most famous of the mouse-born diseases is hantavirus. Hantavirus is spread by mouse droppings. When the droppings dry, the powdered dust floats up into the air. When humans inhale the dust, they catch the virus.

Because dry, dusty conditions facilitate this, the biggest problems with hantavirus happen in dry climates. Hantavirus occurs everywhere, though, including the Pacific Northwest. (I lost a relative to hantavirus about 15 years ago.)

The early symptoms of hantavirus are similar to those of the flu. Within a few days it becomes difficult to breathe, blood pressure drops, and the kidneys begin to fail. There is no treatment for hantavirus, and it is fatal for about half of the people who contract it.

2. Bubonic Plague
This classic oldies hit continues today! Although most people quickly recover from bubonic plague with a round of antibiotics, it is still a serious matter. Cases of bubonic plague have been reported in New Mexico and Oregon.

3. Tularemia
This disease is better known as being transmitted by rabbits (thus its colloquial name "rabbit fever") but mice are carriers as well. If inhaled, tularemia causes flu-like symptoms which can progress quickly to death. If introduced through the skin (through a cut, or the bite of an infected animal or transmitting insect) it can cause pustules and skin ulcers.

Tularemia is an extremely infectious bacterial disease, with only 10-50 bacteria required to cause an infection. For this reason many countries are suspected of having tested its use as a weapon of biological warfare.

4. Rickettsialpox
This bacterial disease is actually transmitted by the mites which feed on infected mice. When an infected mite bites a person, it initially causes a bump which forms a "black, crusty scab." Within a few days the primary symptoms begin, which include flu-like fever, chills, aches, and weakness. Ricketssialpox also causes a distinctive rash which spreads to cover the infected person's entire body.

Rickettsialpox is a threat primarily in urban areas, where the mouse population of an apartment building can become infected. Their mites then spread out and attack the human residents of the building. In fact, it was originally isolated and studied from an outbreak in a single apartment block in Queens.

When a doctor began seeing an unusual number of patients with the same symptoms from the same address, he decided to investigate. Residents had complained of a mouse problem, which was caused by the building manager not incinerating the building's trash promptly. When investigators peeled back the wallpaper in several apartments, they found the walls beneath were "swarming with mites."

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Photo credit: Flickr/Ernst Vickne