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DPHHS reminds Montanans to take precautions to avoid Hantavirus infection this spring

As Montana slowly transitions into spring, state health officials remind Montanans to take steps to avoid Hantavirus.

In a typical year, about 1-2 cases of Hantavirus are reported to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS). However, DPHHS officials say there are several studies showing the deer mice populations in Montana are consistently infected with the virus. In fact, Montana has reported 37 cases since 1993, when the virus was first recognized, making the state second only to New Mexico in the rate of reported cases.

“We know the potential exists for people to become infected with Hantavirus infection,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “However, by taking a few extra precautions, that potential can be greatly reduced. Stop and think this spring before cleaning out your shed, garage, summer cabin or RV.”

Karl Milhon of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Bureau says it’s important to remember how people can contract the illness in the first place. “Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings, and saliva,” he said. “The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming if signs of rodents are present. Protecting yourself and cleaning correctly is essential.”

While Hantavirus cases can occur during any month, spring and summer present more opportunities for exposure as people clean cabins, outbuildings and campers, as well as spend more time outdoors where they can come in contact with mouse and rat nesting materials.

The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is to control rodent populations in areas where one lives and works.

When cleaning areas where rodents may nest, take the following precautions:
   • Wear rubber or plastic gloves
   • Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water to reduce dust and disinfect 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

Early symptoms of Hantavirus 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.

However, early recognition is the key to surviving the illness. “If someone is exposed to rodents and experiences symptoms, especially severe shortness of breath, they need to seek treatment right away,” Milhon said. “Telling your doctor about any rodent exposure will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as Hantavirus.”

More Hantavirus information can be found at www.dphhs.mt.gov

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