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5 Types of Mice in North America and the Viruses They Carry

Types of mice in North America

Although these little guys look super cute, they can potentially be dangerous to you and your family. Mice are the perpetrators of exposing humans to diseases like the hantavirus through their urine, droppings, or saliva. 

Keep reading to find out which types of mice in North America carry diseases, and what to do if you find them!

Deer Mouse

Deer mouse

The deer mouse, also known as the field mouse, lives all across North America. These mice can range in color from light brown to gray and will normally have a white belly.

They are excellent climbers, and commonly nest in wooden structures or in wooded areas. If you find evidence of deer mice in your home, your firewood may be too close to your home, or there is rotted wood in your home.

Take extra precaution when handling the droppings of these mice, as they are notorious for spreading hantavirus through their waste!

Symptoms of hantavirus come in two stages. The virus starts as a normal flu, then progresses in the following 4-10 days. Symptoms include:

  • A cough that produces secretions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid in lungs
  • Low blood pressure
  • Reduced heart rate

Hantavirus has a 38% mortality rate. If you experience these symptoms after interacting with a deer mouse, seek medical attention.

House Mouse

House mouse

These mice are a dusty gray color with a lighter colored stomach. They can be identified by their pointed faces and scaly tails. They can be found across North America and all over the world.

These mice live less than a year and usually nest underground or in burrows. House mice are explorers and like to climb into new or changed areas. They will mostly feed at dusk, and will be active at that time since they do not eat frequently. 

About 5% of the house mouse population is known for carrying lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). The virus is carried through their waste, and infections will normally occur during winter when immune systems weaken.

Luckily, the virus can only be transmitted through direct exposure in the nose, eyes, mouth, cuts, or from a bite. The virus shows symptoms 8-13 days after exposure, and shows similar symptoms to meningitis. It is thankfully not fatal, but if exposed to people with weaker immune systems, it can be dangerous. 

Be sure to properly seal all food in your home. House mice love grainy foods and will gnaw at anything to get to them!   

Western Harvest Mouse

This mouse can be identified by it’s brown body and dark stripe on its back.

Western harvest mice can be found in the west coast, Midwest, and southern parts of North America. These mice will build nests in places with low vegetation, and will use the tunnels and runways of other mammals to travel. 

This mouse is considered “endangered” in some places such as Canada, and is not known to spread any viruses or diseases. However, if an infestation does occur, they do pose a threat to your home’s structural damage, and may contaminate food in through cross contamination.

More recently, it was reported that a western harvest mouse in San Diego tested positive for hantavirus. Use caution when interacting with their waste.

If you believe you have found a western harvest mouse, do not panic. Read more on how to prevent mice, then call an exterminator.

White Footed Mouse

White footed mouse

This mouse is also known for carrying the hantavirus, and can be found in the southern and eastern parts of America. The white footed mouse closely resembles the deer mouse and, like the deer mouse, also prefers wooded areas.

You can identify these mice by their tail covered in short hair and 6-toed feet. 

The white footed mouse will build nests in concealed, warm areas. Look for these mice in:

  • Garages
  • Sheds
  • Infrequently used cars
  • Basements 
  • Crawl spaces  

These mice will “drum” their feet when they are alarmed, so be sure to listen to them in your home! 

Fancy Mouse

These mice are bred as companion mice! If you can find a reputable breeder, and can keep your fancy mouse clean, it can make for a great pet.

However, like other pets, they are susceptible to fleas, mites, ticks, and other parasites if their habitats are not regularly cleaned. Be sure to contact your vet if you believe something may be wrong with your fancy mouse.    

What to Do if You Find Mouse Waste

Do not directly contact any wild mice or waste if you find it in your home. Take caution and clean the infected area immediately by:

  1. Airing out the infected area(s) for at least 30 minutes
  2. Using rubber gloves to dispose of any droppings 
  3. Making a cleaning solution with 1 part bleach to 10 parts water and thoroughly mopping the infected area(s) with a disposable cloth
  4. Disposing all cleaning materials when done, and thoroughly washing hands and clothes

It is important to not dry sweep or vacuum any areas that rodents have potentially contaminated. To find out more about mice behavior and what you can do to prevent them, check out our rodent page! Finally, call an exterminator to ensure your home will be safe from future infestations.

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