|June 13 2013
Exercise caution when handling mice or other rodents
By B.L. Azure
ST. IGNATIUS — There is a time and place for everything in creation, even furry little rodents. However, many of the furry little rodents could be carrying the hantavirus. Consequently the time is right for people to be aware of the potential of contact with mice infected with Hanta Virus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) potentially fatal.
Hanta Virus pulmonary syndrome is a rare human disease caused by a virus common in deer mice. People should exercise extreme caution when handling mice or mice infested areas with feces. Prevention of HPS is simple: Keep rodents out of the house and other buildings where people live or work.
A scientific study about 10 years ago on the Flathead Indian Reservation found that 20-percent of the randomly collected deer mice were caring the hanta virus. There is a 30- to 40-percent chance of fatality for people with the hanta virus.
Health officials in Carbon and Gallatin counties recently confirmed two new cases of HPS and the first HPS related death in Montana in 2013. A resident of Gallatin County in her twenties is the 10th reported death in Montana due to the virus since 1993. The second case is in a male in his forties from Carbon County. Both persons appear to have recent rodent exposures.
These two new cases increase to 37 the number of Hanta virus cases reported in Montana since 1993. Montana typically sees one or two cases a year and is second only to New Mexico in the number of cases per 100,000 population.
“Montanans should be aware of the precautions they can take to avoid Hanta virus and the rodents that can carry it,” said Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services Director Richard Opper. “People can contract the illness when they breathe in air contaminated by the virus. It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming if signs of rodents are present. We are coming up on long holiday weekends and people will be out cleaning up their garages, sheds and summer cabins. Protecting yourself and cleaning correctly is essential.”
Hanta virus is not transmitted from person to person. The greatest risk is associated with exposure to rodent feces in closed, dry areas. All people can protect themselves from hanta virus by taking some simple precautions.
“The risk here is mostly for people who live, sleep, work or play in closed areas where mice or other rodents live,” said DPHHS State Medical Officer Dr. Steven Helgerson. “For people who fall into that category, it is always important to take precautions.”
While hanta virus cases can occur during any month, spring and summer months present more opportunities for exposure as people clean cabins, outbuildings and campers or recreate outdoors and come in contact with mouse and rat nesting materials.
According to Helgerson, early symptoms of hanta virus infection include fever and muscle aches, and sometimes chills, headache and vomiting. Within a few days, symptoms progress to coughing and severe shortness of breath. The symptoms develop one to six weeks after exposure.
“Early recognition by individuals and providers tied to immediate medical care are key to surviving the illness,” Helgerson said. “If someone is exposed to rodents and experiences symptoms- especially severe shortness of breath, they need to seek treatment right away. Telling your doctor about any rodent exposure will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as hanta virus”.
The best way to prevent hanta virus transmission is to control rodent populations in areas where one lives and works. When cleaning areas where rodents may nest, the following precautions should be followed:
• Wear rubber or plastic gloves
• Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of 1.5 cups of bleach to a gallon of water to disinfect and reduce dry dusty conditions in the area being cleaned
• 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
For more information about hanta virus go to: http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/publichealth/cdepi/index.shtml