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Small warning: This question comes from a germophobe point of view, so please keep this in mind while giving an answer.

I love hiking, but I'm worried of what kind of germs (read virus, bacteria and any parasite) you could get from touching things in the ground. The list of things are normal, natural objects like stones, sticks, leaves (dry or not), etc. My particular worry are rodent-transmitted illnesses like leptospirosis and hantavirus, since these transmit through the urine and feces of rats, and I don't know if the objects I get from the ground are contaminated or were at some point exposed to contamination. In addition, it has to be considered that hands or skin touching the objects might be cut, the hands might touch mouth, nose, eyes or ears, and also what happens if one eats afterwards.

For additional context, when I say hiking, I mean hiking in USA Northeastern forests, in public state parks, on one of the trails (not outside the trails). My hikes are not particularly long, certainly not more than a few hours and do not involve the use of shelters or public bathrooms.

My question is, what are the chances that a human can get sick of any rodent-transmitted illness by touching natural objects while hiking?

  • If you have an answer, please post it as an answer, not as a comment. – Rory Alsop Oct 31 '18 at 21:38
  • I've only seen warnings for hantavirus in relation to highly used camping areas in the west (i.e., Grand Canyon, Philmont Scout Ranch) where animals become habituated and thus likely more concentrated. The chances would be extremely rare, especially since you are only hiking and not camping. – topshot Nov 2 '18 at 15:51
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Very slim to be almost nonexistent.

From personal experience, I have not gotten any disease from touching/eating things while hiking. I am typically hiking in the midwest on and off trails.

Diseases from rodents are not something to be concerned about. First, while they are moving along leaving urine and feces about, they are not covering everything. So that reduces your risk of exposure. A further reduction is that not all rodents will be carriers.

The second consideration would be the number of cases of the disease each year. The US had 27 cases of leptospirosis and the CDC has recorded just over 700 cases since 1993 as of Jan 2017 of hantavirus. Considering that there are over 44 million hikers in the US, many of which are east of the Mississippi means that the chances of getting these diseases are very small. (A further point being that I would imagine that most people get the disease from handling rodents rather than secondary contact)

This suggests that your chances are incredibly slim for contracting any diseases from rodents by just going on hikes.

That being said, you should be concerned with lyme and other illnesses that are transmitted via mosquitoes and ticks. But that can be mitigated with proper clothing and insect repellent.

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    You have provided both cited evidence and anecdotal evidence. My comment can serve as supporting anecdotal evidence: neither me nor anybody I know has ever gotten a contagious disease from anything they have touched in the wild that I know of. Please only up-vote this comment to provide the same anecdotal evidence. However, I do know 1 person who got lyme disease from ticks, though he is not a hiker and I think he got it from his own property behind his house, which further supports this answer. – Aaron Oct 30 '18 at 18:54
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    Rodents tend to keep to well-covered areas to avoid predators. Don't go grubbing under logs and through deep brush and you should largely avoid the areas mostly likely to have been visited by rodents. Camp in open sunlit spaces to take advantage of the natural antibacterial treatment provided by UV light from the sun. Walking and resting in shade will be fine as they are still open to predators and thus avoided by rodents. – Arluin Oct 30 '18 at 23:52

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