Animal and Insect Hazards


Hantavirus is a deadly virus that was first recognized as a unique health hazard in 1993. There are four different strains of hantavirus, and cases have been reported in 30 different states. The virus is most active when the temperature is between 45 and 72 degrees.

Hantavirus is spread through the urine and feces of infected rodents. It is an airborne virus. A person is infected by breathing in particles released into the air when infected rodents, their nests, or their droppings are disturbed. This can happen when a person is handling rodents, disturbing rodent nests or burrows, cleaning buildings where rodents have made a home, or working outdoors. The virus will die quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Symptoms of hantavirus include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a dry, nonproductive cough. If you suspect that someone has been infected, consult a physician immediately.

Rabies Prevention

Rabies has become increasingly prevalent in the United States in recent years, with more than 7,000 animals, most of which are wild, found to have the disease each year, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This viral infection is often found in bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Rabies can be transmitted by warm-blooded animals, including domestic dogs and cats.

Although rabies in humans is rare in the United States, the CDC reports that more than 22,000 people in this country require vaccination each year after being exposed to rabid or potentially rabid animals. States with the highest number of reported cases include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maryland, and parts of northern California.

Scout leaders can help prevent possible exposure to rabies by reminding Scouts to steer clear of wild animals and domestic animals that they don’t know. If someone is scratched or bitten by a potentially rabid animal, Scout leaders should

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Call a doctor or a hospital emergency room.
  • Get a description of the animal.
  • Notify the local animal control office, police department, or board of health.

Lyme Disease

Ticks can be a problem in wooded areas and campsites, and they can be carriers of Lyme disease. The disease is transmitted when a blood-sucking tick attaches itself to and feeds on its victim. Ticks frequently imbed themselves in hair or around the belt line or ankles; they are visible, crablike insects.

A red ringlike rash might appear around the bite. A victim might feel lethargic and have flulike symptoms, fever, a sore throat, and muscle aches. Anyone experiencing these symptoms in the days and weeks following a trek adventure, especially activities in areas where ticks are known to carry Lyme disease, should be checked by a physician.

West Nile Virus

West Nile Virus (WNV) develops in humans from infected mosquito bites. Birds act as an intermediate host, forming a reservoir of infection. Migrating birds introduce the WNV into local ecosystems, where it may then continue to reside in wintering species of mosquitoes in some areas of the country, or be reintroduced to new hatches of mosquitoes in the spring.

For every five humans infected with the virus, one has a mild, febrile illness lasting 3 to 6 days, while approximately one in 150 infected persons develops meningitis or encephalitis. The incubation period ranges from 2 to 14 days. Mild illness may include lethargy, eye pain, nausea, cramping and a rash. Severe muscle weakness is also frequently a symptom.

The basis of preventing WNV in Scouts, Scouters, and camp staff is a two-pronged program directed at mosquito reduction and personal protection. By far the most important aspect is personal protection. The Department of Defense system of personal protection consists of treating clothing with 0.5 percent permethrin and treating exposed body surface areas with DEET. Properly used, this combination can reduce the incidence of mosquito bites by virtually 100 percent.

A 111-page document prepared by the Centers for Disease Control that discusses WNV prevention strategies can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat format at dvbid/westnile.