As the weather grows warmer, many of us start working on those spring cleaning projects we’ve been planning all winter. These projects may take you into dusty, dark, little-used areas, and you may find yourself sharing that space with rodents! The sight of a mouse scurrying across the floor send some of us jumping for a table or chair, but other than that sudden surprise, mice are harmless, right?

Actually, jumping onto that chair, or avoiding rodent-infested areas all together, might not be a bad idea. Rodents are carriers of a group of viruses called hantaviruses.  One of these viruses is carried by deer mice, which are found in all areas of Montana. This particular hantavirus is the cause of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

The virus is excreted in the urine, saliva and droppings of deer mice. People can be exposed to hantavirus by breathing contaminated dust after disturbing or cleaning rodent droppings or nests, or by living or working in rodent-infested areas. If someone contracts hantavirus, symptoms will usually begin one to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms usually being with 3-5 days of flu-like illness; individuals may experience fever, sore muscles, headaches, nausea, vomiting and fatigue. As the disease progresses, it causes shortness of breath due to fluid-filled lungs. Hantavirus is a serious disease, and hospital care is usually required. It is important to note, however, that there is no evidence that the disease spreads from one person to another.

Hantavirus can be prevented!

Keep rodents out of your home and workplace by sealing up the building’s cracks and gaps larger than ¼ inch, trapping indoor rats and mice with snap traps and removing rodent food sources.

It’s also important to clean up rodent-infested areas, but special precautions should be taken during this process:

  • Wear gloves
  • Do not stir up dust (e.g. vacuuming or sweeping)
  • Wet contaminated area with a bleach solution and let it sit for 10 minutes
  • Remove all droppings, nest material and mice with a damp towel and mop or sponge the area with the bleach solution
  • Steam clean or shampoo upholstered furniture and carpets that have been exposed to rodents
  • Spray dead rodents with disinfectant and double-bag before proper disposal
  • Disinfect gloves before removal
  • Thoroughly wash hands with soap and water (use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available)

You should also take care to avoid rodent exposure when working or recreating outdoors: don’t sleep directly on the ground, keep clear of rodent droppings or burrows and dispose of trash properly.

Fortunately, hantavirus is rare – only one to five cases are typically reported in Montana each year. However, it is a serious disease, so it’s important to see your health care provider if you experience any of the symptoms and have been exposed to rodent or rodent-infested areas.

Learn more about hantavirus and how to prevent it: click here for a printable fact sheet or visit www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/.