Avoid hantavirus exposure during spring cleaning

With spring comes spring cleaning — and the potential for exposure to the dangerous and even deadly hantavirus.

Precautions are especially important while cleaning homes, sheds, out buildings, cabins, barns or other areas where mice or mouse droppings are present.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a caused by virus that is carried primarily by deer mice, which are characterized by their color — brown on top and white underneath and by their large ears. Infected rodents excrete the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. These droppings contaminate dirt and dust.

People are infected by inhaling airborne particles of the virus or by direct contact with rodents, their droppings or nests. Although hantavirus is rare, it is fatal in roughly 40 percent of cases. Mesa County reported a fatal case of hantavirus in Mesa in the early 1990s.

Early symptoms of HPS are much like the flu and include fever, chills, headache and severe muscle pain, especially in the lower back and legs. There is severe abdominal, joint and back pain and, possibly, nausea and vomiting.

Within one to five days after symptoms start, a person will develop a cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing due to fluid buildup in the lungs. This can quickly progress to respiratory failure and is life-threatening.

It’s possible, though, to avoid exposure to hantavirus by taking precautions:

Open doors or windows to provide good ventilation for 30 to 60 minutes before cleaning out structures. Avoid stirring up dust by watering down areas of mouse infestation with a mixture of bleach and water. Wear gloves.

Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways.

In rural areas, conduct year-round rodent control using traps or poisons or hire a professional exterminator.

Make home or work areas unattractive to rodents by keeping indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Store food in rodent-proof containers. This includes pet, livestock and bird food. Properly dispose of garbage in sealed containers.

For more information about hantavirus, call the Mesa County Health Department at 248-6969 for a prerecorded message or log on to the website at www.health.mesacounty.us.