State warns folks about the threat of hantavirus

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The Department of Public Health and Human Services and local public health agencies are reminding Montanans and visitors to the state to be aware of the risk of hantavirus and to take precautions to avoid exposures to rodents, their droppings and nests.

“Although hantavirus infection can occur during any month, the risk of exposure is increased in the spring and summer as people clean cabins and sheds, and spend more time outside in the vicinity of rodents,” epidemiologist for the DPHHS Public Health and Safety Division Magdalena Scott said.

People can become infected with hantavirus when saliva, urine, or droppings from an infected deer mouse are stirred up and inhaled, causing symptoms including fatigue, fever and muscle aches with progression to coughing and extreme shortness of breath.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Montana has reported 43 cases of Hantavirus since the agency started tracking the illness in 1994 with 10 cases resulting in death. Hantavirus was the determined to be the cause of death for Glacier National Park Deputy Superintendent Jerry O’Neal in March 2004.

Since 2014, there have been 129 reported hantavirus cases in the United States and was determined to be the cause of at least 41 deaths.

Studies have shown that deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) are the most common host of the virus, and are well dispersed throughout Montana. It is important to avoid activities that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming, if there are signs of rodents in the area.

According to the CDC, diagnosing HPS in an individual who has only been infected a few days is difficult, because early symptoms such as fever, muscle aches, and fatigue are easily confused with influenza. Someone who is experiencing hantavirus symptoms and has a history of rodent exposure should see a physician immediately and make sure to mention the potential rodent exposure.

There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, past cases have shown that individuals who recognize the illness early and are treated in an intensive care unit respond better to treatment.

The best protection against hantavirus is to control rodent populations in the places where people live and work by taking these precautions:

SEAL UP: Prevent mouse entry into homes and sheds by sealing up holes and gaps in walls.

TRAP UP: Use snap traps to eliminate any mice indoors. Individuals can also reduce rodent populations near dwellings by keeping shrubbery near the home well-trimmed, and moving woodpiles at least 100 feet from the dwelling and raising them at least one foot off the ground.

CLEAN UP: Carefully clean up areas where mouse droppings are seen. Avoid sweeping or vacuuming areas with rodent droppings and urine, as the action can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings.

If cleaning an area such as a cabin, camper or outbuilding, open windows and doors and air-out the space for 30 minutes prior to cleaning.

Wear rubber or plastic gloves and thoroughly spray or soak the area with a disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water to reduce dust. Let soak for five minutes. Wipe up the droppings with a sponge or paper towel, then clean the entire area with disinfectant or bleach solution. When cleanup is complete, dispose of sponges and paper towels used to clean, remove and discard gloves and wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.

For more information on hantavirus and prevention of disease, visit the DPHHS website at http://dphhs.mt.gov/.

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