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Health Officials: Your Car Could Harbor The Deadly Hantavirus

"Field Mouse (peromyscus maniculatus)" by Dawn Beattie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Are there rodents under your hood? King County Public Health officials say if you have mice nesting in your car, you could be at risk of contracting the deadly hantavirus. The airborne virus is spread when deer mice droppings are disturbed.

Mice or rat infestations in cars aren’t that uncommon, particularly in vehicles that haven't been driven for a while. Jeff Duchin with King County Public Health says the rodents can be almost anywhere in the vehicle.

“Under the hood in the engine compartment or in between where the air filter is and the passenger cabin,” Duchin said.

This year, he says, it’s especially concerning because of the danger of hantavirus. Although the virus is usually rare in the Pacific Northwest, this year is different. One person in King County has died from it this year.

The case didn’t involve rodents in a car, but Duchin says, just to be on the safe side, you should check for signs of mice in your car.

“You need to look thoroughly in all the areas. Do a good TSA-style inspection,” said Duchin.

One reason rodents may be more likely to be nesting in cars this year is that it’s been rainier than usual, a 122-year record for rain was set and the mice are seeking anyplace that’s dry.

The health department warns people should be cautious when cleaning up deer or mice droppings.

"Never use a vacuum," said Duchin.

Among other things, the health department recommends spraying a beach solution on an area to be cleaned.

Corrected on April 27, 2017 - An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of people that have died from hantavirus this year in King County. To date, one person has died.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.