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Rodents That Carry the Types of Hantavirus Which Cause HPS in the United States:

deer mouseThe Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) is a deceptively cute animal, with big eyes and big ears. Its head and body are normally about 2 - 3 inches long, and the tail adds another 2 - 3 inches in length. You may see it in a variety of colors, from gray to reddish brown, depending on its age. The underbelly is always white and the tail has sharply defined white sides. The deer mouse is found almost everywhere in North America. Usually, the deer mouse likes woodlands, but also turns up in desert areas.

View map showing where deer mice live in North America.

cotton ratThe Cotton Rat (Sigmodon hispidus), which you'll find in the southeastern United States (and way down into Central and South America), has a bigger body than the deer mouse—head and body about 5 - 7 inches, and another 3 - 4 inches for the tail. The hair is longer and coarser, of a grayish brown color, even grayish black. The cotton rat prefers overgrown areas with shrubs and tall grasses.

View map showing where cotton rats live in North America.


rice ratThe Rice Rat (Oryzomys palustris) is slightly smaller than the cotton rat, having a head and body 5 - 6 inches long, plus a very long, 4- to 7-inch tail. Rice rats sport short, soft, grayish brown fur on top, and gray or tawny underbellies. Their feet are whitish. As you might expect from the name, this rat likes marshy areas and is semiaquatic. It's found in the southeastern United States and in Central America.

View map showing where rice rats live in North America.


white-footed mouseThe White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) is hard to distinguish from the deer mouse. The head and body together are about four inches long. Note that its tail is normally shorter than its body (about 2 - 4 inches long). Topside, its fur ranges from pale brown to reddish brown, while its underside and feet are white. The white-footed mouse is found through southern New England, the Mid-Atlantic and southern states, the midwestern and western states, and Mexico. It prefers wooded and brushy areas, although sometimes it will live in more open ground.

View map showing where white-footed mice live in North America.

Both the deer mouse and the cotton rat usually live in rural areas, but can also be found in cities when conditions are right, such as easy availability of food, water and shelter.

Other Rodents May Also Carry Hantavirus
Other rodents carry strains of hantavirus that cause HPS, but they have not yet been identified. In addition, other rodent species may play host to other types of hantaviruses that cause a different type of infection, hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome, or HFRS. Also see the definition of hantaviruses for more information.

It is wise, therefore, to avoid close contact with rodents in general.


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This page last reviewed Thursday, August 24, 2006

Special Pathogens Branch
Division of Viral and Rickettsial Diseases
National Center for Infectious Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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