From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 104, Number 19 - May 10, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Hantavirus threat present in county

by Julia Stuble

It’s spring, and along with all the glorious aspects of it come several less than desirable changes in animal life. Ticks are on the prowl, and mouse nests need cleaning. But before you clean out an old shed, attic, or camper trailer of last winter’s nesting rodents, make yourself aware of the risks and preventative measures for hantavirus, cautions Sublette County Health Officer Doctor Tom Johnston.

Hantavirus, carried by rodents, causes Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in humans when the human subject inhales mouse excreta or saliva, or more likely, materials contaminated by the mouse. Nests are prime examples, and the dust raised around them during cleaning may contain virus-infected particles.

Hantavirus can also be contracted by open wound infection, or through eating contaminated materials, though inhalation is the most common. “You have to pay attention to what’s in the place you’re cleaning,” advised Dr. Johnston, adding “I would recommend wearing a dust mask and using a disinfecting solution very generously.”

Hantavirus is present in Sublette County rodent populations, as within recent years, one case of HPS has been reported, Johnston said. Dr. Tracy Murphy with the Wyoming Department of Health noted that HPS is not common, as only eight cases have been reported in the state since 1993.

However, he still cautions about cleaning out rodent infested areas. “People need to consider if they’re gong to be exposed to rodent nesting areas before they undertake a project. Ideally, they should air out the building,” Dr. Murphy said, adding that ventilation while cleaning the area is very important and gloves should be worn. If rodent excreta or materials are found, he recommends very strongly dousing them with a disinfectant spray or bleach solution. The low number of reported cases of HPS may be because of its similar symptoms with the flu.

“I would say that if a person knows they have had significant exposure to rodents,” and then develop flu-like symptoms, they should contact their healthcare provider, said Murphy. HPS is fatal in about 30-40 percent of the cases.

HPS symptoms may include fever, muscle aches, headache, back pain, chills, dizziness, cough, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and shortness of breath, and usually begins between a few days and six weeks after exposure. Within a few days of the above-listed symptoms, they worsen and are usually characterized by lung problems including shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and coughing.

For more information regarding Hantavirus, and safe practices for cleaning rodent-contaminated areas, call the Wyoming Department of Health, Preventative Health and Safety Division, at 307-777-7172.

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