Animal and Insect Hazards

Hantavirus

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.

Mosquito-Borne Illnesses

Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes that are or could be encountered in the United States include dengue, West Nile fever, St. Louis encephalitis, La Crosse encephalitis, and Eastern equine encephalitis. Others, such as those caused by the Chikungunya and Zika viruses, have not been shown to be acquired in the continental United States, but potentially could be. Specifically for the Zika virus, those who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant (including potential fathers) need to discuss those plans with their physician prior to travel.

Generally, there are no immunizations available for these diseases; therefore, prevention of mosquito bites is the best way to assure protection and to prevent spread of disease. The CDC has produced a great summary on mosquito bite prevention for the United States, which can be found at www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/pdfs/fs_mosquito_bite_prevention_us.pdf. An infographic for travel outside the continental United States is also available at www.cdc.gov/chikungunya/pdfs/fs_mosquito_bite_prevention_travelers.pdf.

The following additional resources may be helpful:

We encourage you to stay up to date for changes as public health officials are monitoring these and other mosquito-borne illnesses on a daily basis and are continually making new and significant recommendations.