Hantavirus case prompts call for citizen precautions

April 18, 2014

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Garfield County Public Health officials are warning residents to use precautions to avoid being exposed to hantavirus, after confirming that a Garfield County resident has been diagnosed with hantavirus infection.

Hantavirus infections occur yearly in Colorado, and have occurred on the Western Slope in the past. The last human case of hantavirus in Garfield County was in 2012. While this disease can be deadly, the adult who became ill in 2012 recovered. Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows there is a 36 percent mortality rate associated with hantavirus.

Hantavirus is carried in the saliva, urine and droppings of deer mice. When contaminated dirt and dust are stirred up, the virus can become airborne. Most people become infected by breathing in the particles. Infection can also occur from being bitten by an infected mouse. The virus is not transmitted from person to person.

Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include muscle aches, fatigue, high fever, dizziness, headaches, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. Within one to five days after early symptoms begin, late symptoms, consistent with respiratory distress, will begin. These include cough and difficulty breathing. The onset of these symptoms can occur a few days to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms that are not hantavirus related are sinus congestion, sneezing, runny nose and a cough producing phlegm, among others.

There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, individuals who recognize the symptoms and seek prompt medical treatment may have a better chance of recovery. The best precaution is prevention through proper handling of cleanup in areas where mice have inhabited.

Residents who have deer mice or related species of mice in or around their homes are at risk for hantavirus. Risk of infection can be reduced by taking precautions while cleaning up areas where rodents have been present, controlling rodent populations in and around the home, and preventing rodents from entering the home and surrounding structures.

Removal of rodent droppings is important to decrease the likelihood of exposure to hantavirus. People should not sweep or vacuum areas containing rodent droppings or dried rodent urine, as this disperses the risky airborne contaminants.
The best method of cleanup is to wear gloves, wet the area with a bleach and water solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) or disinfectant spray, and to keep the area wet for five minutes prior to clean-up. Wiping up droppings and surrounding areas with paper towels and immediately disposing of the paper towels is recommended. Wash gloved-hands prior to removal of gloves and then immediately dispose of gloves. Wash hands with soap and water again after removing the gloves. When disposing of dead rodents, always use gloves, place rodent in a plastic bag, seal it carefully, and dispose it.

Homes can be rodent-proofed by eliminating food sources and removing abandoned vehicles, brush, wood and junk piles where rodents may hide. Other precautions that should be taken include:

  • Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways. Conduct year-round rodent control, using traps or poisons if necessary, 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.
  • Store firewood at least 100 feet from the house. Keep vegetation around the house well trimmed.

For more hantavirus information, contact Garfield County Public Health at 970-625-5200 or 970-945-6614 or visit garfield-county.com/public-health.