As the warm weather returns, Delta County health officials are warning county residents to be cautious and avoid exposure to hantavirus when doing spring cleaning and before opening up cabins, buildings, sheds and barns.
Hantavirus is a serious respiratory disease, which can be fatal.
Hantavirus is carried in the saliva, urine and droppings of deer mice, which are commonly found in rural areas throughout the state. The virus can infect humans when they inhale contaminated dirt and dust while working in or cleaning out rodent-infested structures. Infection can also occur from being bitten by an infected mouse.
Bonnie Koehler, Delta County health officer, 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 case and should be considered a red flag.
The four basic precautions are:
• Rodent proof your home and outbuildings
• Eliminate food sources and hiding places
• Conduct year-round rodent control on your property
• Use special precautions when cleaning rodent infested structures.
"Before people begin cleaning structures that have been closed up all winter, they need to take precautions, particularly if there are accumulations of mouse droppings and other signs of mice," Koehler said.
"If live mice are still occupying the structure," Koehler said, "rodent control should be done before extensive cleaning efforts. The structures should be ventilated thoroughly and any accumulation of dust, dirt and mouse droppings should be wet down with a mixture of bleach and water before any cleaning begins."
Koehler emphasized, "Just cleaning an area without first wetting it down doesn't provide the necessary protection."
Additional precautions that should be taken to provide protection against hantavirus include:
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 unattractive to rodents. Keep indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Store food in rodent-proof containers and properly dispose of garbage in sealed containers. This includes pet, livestock and bird food.
Remove rodent hiding places such as wood, junk and brush piles. Store firewood at least 100 feet from the house. Keep vegetation around the house well trimmed.
Open doors or windows to provide good ventilation for 30 to 60 minutes before cleaning out structures. Avoid stirring up dust by watering down areas of mouse infestation with a mixture of bleach and water.
"If you are living or staying in rural areas and have deer mice around, you can assume there is some risk of exposure to this virus. The more live mice that are present, the greater the risk, although some people have been infected by directly handling a single mouse."
The symptoms of hantavirus, which is deadly in nearly half of the cases, begin with high fever, severe body aches, a headache and vomiting. The onset of these symptoms begins from one week to six weeks after exposure. Initially, there are no respiratory symptoms present. Symptoms such as a runny nose; sneezing; sinus congestion; and a cough, that produces phlegm, are not associated with hantavirus infection.
However, within one to five days, the illness quickly progresses to respiratory distress, including a dry cough and difficulty breathing, as the lungs fill with fluid. Because no effective treatment exists for the disease, Koehler 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.
Deer mice can be identified by the 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. For more information about hantavirus, call CO-HELP at 1-877-462-2911.blog comments powered by Disqus