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Hantavirus: How idle cars could spread silent pandemic

VEHICLES sat idle during the coronavirus lockdown could provide an easy breeding ground for rodents to spread another potentially deadly disease.

With government guidelines loosened over the last few weeks, but many drives still confined to their homes, cars and vans across the UK are parked on driveways and roadsides silent and unused.

But experts at a leading leasing firm are advising motorists to frequently start engines while also regularly checking and cleaning their vehicles.

This is not only to ensure they are still in working order but also to lessen the chances of a vole, mouse or rat exposing them to the little-known hantavirus.

While fairly rare in humans, the disease can have devastating and potentially fatal effects by causing kidney or respiratory failure.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it’s contracted by breathing in spores contained in the droppings, urine and saliva of rodents, as well as exposure to rodent nests.

In the UK it’s mainly rats and bank voles that carry the virus.

James O’Malley, director at leading car leasing firm Select Car Leasing, said: “Since the government lockdown measures were brought in the majority of people aren’t using their vehicles.

“Some might be driving to the supermarket once a week, but many more are not getting behind the wheel at all. And this means that stationary cars can attract some unwelcome visitors, ranging from rodents to insects.

“Motorists need to make regular internal and external checks of their cars to ensure no infestations of any sorts.”

There are dozens of variations of hantavirus and each one has a specific rodent host.

The flu-like symptoms include intense headaches, back and abdominal pain, chills, fever, nausea and blurred vision.

Hantavirus can cause two serious infections in humans, haemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome (HFRS) and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) – kidney and lung failure respectively that can prove fatal.

Rodents can nest in many different places in cars and vans. These include the engine compartment, area under the windscreen wipers, between the battery and the frame, the engine air filter and near or in filter hoses and ducts of the heating and air conditioning system.

The creatures can also find homes in the boot, inside the spare tyre compartment, and inside the headlight and rear light enclosures – gaining entry through rust holes, vents and duct pipes.

While you may not actually see a rodent in your vehicle, there are plenty of tell tale signs to look out for including droppings, urine and bad smells. Another sign is a heater or fan making a rattling or vibrating noise, which could indicate a nest is causing some sort of blockage.

Mice and rats can damage your car by chewing on wires and cables while nesting under your bonnet or wherever they see snug and inviting nooks and crannies.

Favourites ‘snacks’ including power-steering wires, hoses and plastic panels – which can all cause hundreds of pounds worth of damage.

Exposure to rodent droppings and urine can also expose you to salmonella poisoning.

Mr O’Malley added: “Keep your mind at rest by checking on your vehicle and keeping it clean externally and internally.”

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