CCHD Reminds Residents how to Protect Themselves from Hantavirus

With the recent tragedy regarding a young woman contracting Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) the Cascade City-County Health Department (CCHD) wants to remind residents that there are steps they can take to protect themselves against infection from Hantavirus.

“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by Hantavirus. It is a very serious illness that is present in the environment and we want to make sure all residents know the steps they can take to reduce their chances of contracting this illness,” said Alicia M. Thompson, Health Officer. “For your safety, take all recommended steps to control rodent populations and clean up rodent waste properly. If you have been around rodents and start to exhibit illness symptoms it is crucial to seek medical care immediately and let your provider know you have been exposed to rodent waste.”

Hantavirus is carried by infected deer mice and can be passed on through their urine, saliva, or droppings. The percentage of infected deer mice is highly dependent on environmental factors and can vary greatly between seasons. Cascade County had two cases in 2012, and there have been two cases in Montana so far in 2013. It is possible that other infections could occur if people don’t take steps to protect themselves. Common tasks such as sweeping and moving boxes can disturb areas that have dried saliva, urine, or droppings from infected deer mice. As infected material is moved around, tiny particles with the virus in them get kicked up into the air. It is these tiny particles that can make you sick when they are inhaled or get into your eyes, mouth, or broken skin.

Symptoms can begin one to six weeks after being exposed to the virus. The illness typically starts with 3-5 days of “flu-like” symptoms including fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Within a few days the illness rapidly progresses to severe shortness of breath.

Early diagnosis of Hantavirus and immediate medical care increase the likelihood of a full recovery. Individuals exposed to rodents or their waste who experience symptoms should immediately seek medical treatment and notify their provider that they have been around rodents or rodent wastes. Providing this information to your provider will help him or her to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as Hantavirus.

The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is by controlling rodent populations in areas where you live and work.

  • Seal up cracks and gaps in buildings that are larger than 1/4 inch, including window and door sills, under sinks around the pipes, in foundations, attics, and any rodent entry hole.
  • Trap indoor rats and mice with snap traps, and remove rodent food sources.
  • Keep food (including pet food) in rodent-proof containers.

If you find places where rodents have nested, or if you find rodent droppings or waste, follow these steps to help prevent exposure to Hantavirus while cleaning:

  • Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
  • Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water to reduce dry dusty conditions in the area being cleaned (visit http://www.cdc.gov/rodents/cleaning/index.html or call 454-6950 and ask for a Public Health Nurse for specific mixing instructions).
  • Wipe or mop the area with a sponge or paper towel (throw away items after use).
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves.
  • Never sweep or vacuum in these areas as this can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings.

More information on Hantavirus and its prevention can be found on our printable fact sheet or by calling 454-6950 and asking to speak with a Public Health Nurse.