It is summer in the Valley. People are cleaning out sheds, attics, and opening cabins. We need to be aware of and protect ourselves from Hantavirus, a serious illness spread by rodents. We have had one reported case in Custer County and another in Costilla County this year.
Hantavirus is spread by deer mice, not the small gray house mice commonly found in homes. Deer mice are brown on top and white underneath and have large ears. We do have deer mice in Custer County. You cannot get the virus from another person, farm animals, dogs, cats, or insects.
People contract the disease when they breathe in the airborne virus from the urine, droppings or saliva of infected rodents. Transmission can also occur when these materials are directly introduced into broken skin, the nose or the mouth.
The virus can stay in the environment up to two or three days. Exposure to sunlight will decrease the amount of time the virus can live in a closed environment.
The risk of getting Hantavirus is very small. But you can reduce your risk even more by:
- Before entering or cleaning an area that has been closed off—an attic, cabin, etc.—open and air it out for at least one hour.
- Seal up, trap up, and clean up any rodent entry holes with steel wool, lath metal, or caulk. Use appropriate snap traps. Clean up rodent food sources.
To clean a rodent-infested area:
- Put on rubber, latex, vinyl, or nitrile gloves.
- Wear a face mask with a high efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA).
- Do not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping or any other means.
- Thoroughly wet contaminated areas with a bleach solution—mix 1 ½ cups of household bleach in 1 gallon of water. (Stronger concentrations are not as effective.)
- Once everything is wet, take up contaminated materials with damp towel and then mop or sponge the area with bleach solution. Double bag and bury this contaminated material.
- Disinfect gloves with soap and water before taking them off. Thoroughly wash hands with soap and warm water after removing gloves.
Hantavirus symptoms begin from three days to six weeks after exposure and include high fever, severe body aches, a headache and vomiting. 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. Within one to five days, the illness quickly progresses to dry cough and difficulty breathing.
Early medical treatment is crucial. There is no cure for Hantavirus, but many people recover if they are treated in a hospital.
Call the Custer County Public Health Nursing Service 719-783-3369 or check the Centers for Disease Control Web site at www.cdc.gov for more information.