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STUTTGART, Germany — The Europe Regional Medical Command is urging caution in light of what it says is a dramatic increase in cases of hantavirus in the Stuttgart area, including three involving U.S. servicemembers.

The virus, carried by rodents, usually spreads through contact with their urine and excrement. Often, people are infected when they inhale dried particles in dust, according to an ERMC news release.

“We’re fortunate in one respect that the strain of hantavirus common to this area is a relatively milder form of the disease than we sometimes see in other parts of the world, including the United States,” Col. Larry Connell, Stuttgart Health Clinic commander, said in the release. “While preventing exposure to the virus is key, we also encourage anybody with symptoms of hantavirus to contact their primary care clinic so they can be evaluated.”

The three U.S. servicemembers were treated and recovered, ERMC said.

The strain of hantavirus common to Germany has a mortality rate of less than 1 percent, according to health officials. Symptoms include an abrupt onset of fever and flu-like symptoms, followed by abdominal pain and, in some severe cases, kidney failure. European hantavirus does not spread from human to human.

In 2010, more than 1,500 cases of hantavirus infection were reported across Germany, and the majority of those were in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, according to ERMC. Most cases involved people living or working in rural areas.

Susanne Glasmacher, a biologist with the Robert Koch institute in Berlin, which tracks diseases, said the number of cases in those two states is often higher, due to the rodent population, and fluctuates from year to year. In 2010, there were 998 reported cases in Baden-Württemberg and in 2011, 128 cases, she said. So far this year, there have been 337 cases reported in the state, where Stuttgart is the capital.

One way to avoid contact with the virus is to keep rodents away from homes and campsites. “Cleaning up spilled food to avoid attracting rodents and sealing holes that could allow them into your house or garage are a good start,” The ERMC news released stated.

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