Take precautions to avoid hantavirus

Simple steps can help limit potential exposure

June 6, 2019

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – The first confirmed Colorado case of hantavirus in 2019 has been reported by the Northeast Colorado Health Department. May, June, and July are the months when most human cases of hantavirus occur.

Hantavirus is a serious and potentially fatal respiratory disease carried by deer mice. People may become exposed to hantavirus when cleaning out rodent-infested structures, breathing in dirt and dust contaminated with deer mouse urine and feces.

There have been no hantavirus-related deaths in Garfield County, and the last human case was in 2017. Though hantavirus is rare, it is frequently fatal, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 36 percent.

The Four Corners region of the United States has a greater rate of exposure than the rest of the country, with Colorado having the second-largest number of cases. Within Colorado, Garfield County has the fifth-greatest prevalence of the disease.

“Becoming exposed is easier than it might seem,” said Danielle Dudley, Garfield County Public Health nurse. “You could go into a storage space and pull down a box that has rodent urine or droppings on it. When you sweep off the droppings the air fills with dust that gets into your lungs creating an opportunity for exposure.”

When you encounter spaces that have obvious signs of mice, stop until proper cleaning techniques can be used. Ventilate the space and wet surfaces down with a bleach water solution of a cup and a half of bleach in one gallon of water. Keep the area wet for five minutes before beginning to clean. Use gloves to wipe up and safely discard all contaminated material. “Never vacuum, sweep, or doing anything that stirs up dust without first spraying the area down,” said Dudley.

Hantavirus symptoms take an average of two to four weeks to appear. Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, and vomiting. At first, there are no respiratory symptoms. However, the illness can quickly progress to respiratory distress within one to five days.

Those who have had exposure to mice or mice droppings and who exhibit symptoms of illness should seek medical attention, and tell a doctor about the rodent exposure. There is no specific cure for hantavirus, but individuals who receive early treatment may have a better chance of recovery.


  • Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways. Conduct year-round rodent control or hire a professional exterminator.
  • Keep indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Dispose of garbage in sealed containers.
  • Store 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 your 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.