Apr 13, 2010 6:59 PM

Health department warns of hantavirus threat

As the time for spring cleaning arrives, public health officials are warning about the danger of hantavirus.

"Hantavirus is a serious respiratory disease carried by wild rodents, including deer mice, and the cotton rat, both common in the Pueblo County area," stated Dr. Christine Nevin-Woods, public health director at the Pueblo City-County Health Department. "The virus can infect humans who inhale dirt and dust contaminated with mouse urine and feces, when working in or cleaning out rodent-infested structures or possibly from a bite."

Dr. Nevin-Woods urged people to be particularly careful where there are mouse droppings and evidence that mice have been in and around the buildings or nearby wood or junk piles. A large, rapid increase in the number of mice around a home often precedes a human hantavirus case and should be considered a red flag. "It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or dry vacuuming as infection occurs when you breathe in virus particles. Hantavirus is extremely serious and can be fatal," explained Dr. Nevin-Woods. Since January there have been two deaths in Colorado due to hantavirus.

Before beginning to clean structures that have been closed up all winter, individuals need to take precautions if there are accumulations of mouse droppings and other signs of mice. Rodent control should be done before extensive cleaning efforts, if live mice still occupy a structure. The structures should be thoroughly ventilated and any accumulation of dust, dirt and mouse droppings should be sprayed with a mixture of bleach and water before any cleaning begins.


• Before cleaning, trap existing rodents and seal up any entryways to ensure that no additional rodents can get in. Use a face respirator mask- N 95 or better. Do not use painters' masks, surgical masks or standard dust masks. Always use rubber gloves when handling rodent carcasses, make sure you disinfect the rubber gloves afterwards.
• Air out rodent infested buildings or areas for a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes before cleaning. Do not sweep or dry vacuum rodent contaminated surfaces which may stir up the dust and allow potentially contaminated dust to be breathed in unintentionally. Spray contaminated materials with a 10% bleach solution (one part bleach per nine parts water) and allow the area to soak for 5-10 minutes before cleaning with a mop, sponge or wet (shop) vacuum.
• Indoors: use snap traps, baited with a peanut butter/oatmeal mix. Outdoors: use snap traps, multi-catch traps, or poisons. Do not use live or glue traps; rodents urinate and defecate once caught and this raises the chance of infection.
• Trapping success will be increased if food sources have been eliminated and entrances to the building sealed to keep new mice from entering. Continue trapping efforts as long as rodent presence is suspected in the home or outbuilding.
• Spray carcasses and traps with a solution of household bleach (one part bleach per nine parts water) and let soak for 5-10 minutes. Place carcass in a plastic bag and deposit in outdoor trash, the trap may be reused.
• Encourage natural predators (hawks, owls, foxes, non-poisonous snakes, etc.) which consume large numbers of rodents.
• Workers who remodel, electricians, plumbers, and contractors should be cautious.

• Rodent proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways. Conduct year-round rodent control, using traps or poisons, or hire a professional exterminator.
• Make home or work areas uninviting to rodents by keeping indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Dispose of garbage in sealed containers.
• Eliminate food sources by storing food in rodent-proof containers, including food for pets, livestock and birds.
• Remove rodent hiding places near the home such as wood, junk and brush piles. Store firewood at least 100 feet from the house. Keep vegetation around the house well-trimmed.

Hantavirus -is deadly in nearly 36% of all cases - early symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache and muscle pain that is prominent in the large muscles of the thighs, hips, and lower back. Approximately 50% of patients experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The onset of these symptoms begins from one week to six weeks after exposure. Initially, there are no respiratory symptoms present. However, within one to five days, the illness quickly progresses to respiratory distress, including a dry cough and difficulty breathing caused by the lungs filling with fluid. Symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, sinus congestion and a cough that produces phlegm are not associated with hantavirus infection.
Immediate medical attention is necessary when an adult or child has exposure or bite from a rodent and begins to display symptoms mentioned above. Dr. Nevin-Woods emphasized prevention as the key to avoiding hantavirus.

"When hantavirus infection is suspected or confirmed, early admission to a hospital where careful monitoring, treatment of symptoms and supportive therapy can be provided is most important," she said. "If you become ill with these symptoms, it is important to tell your physician about possible exposures to deer mice or rodent-infested environments."

Deer mice are brown on top and white underneath. They have large ears relative to their head size. House mice on the other hand are all gray and have small ears. The small, gray house mice commonly found in urban areas do not carry the disease.



»Topics in this article

Most Popular

Top Videos

1 2 3 4