Montrose, COLO.– Montrose County Health & Human Services is encouraging the public to take precautions to avoid hantavirus. The first confirmed Colorado case of hantavirus in 2019 has been reported by the Northeast Colorado Health Department. May, June, and July are the months when most human cases of hantavirus occur.
The Four Corners region of the United States has a greater rate of exposure than the rest of the country, with Colorado having the second-largest number of cases. Though hantavirus is rare, it is frequently fatal, with a case fatality rate (CFR) of 36 percent.
“While there are no cases currently reported in Montrose County, the Public Health Department wants to encourage the public to be mindful of potential exposure situations,” said Jim Austin, Community and Environmental Health Manager. “Exposure can be as simple as cleaning out a camper or closet area where rodent urine or droppings are present. Disturbing those droppings stirs up dust that can be inhaled, creating an opportunity for exposure.”
What is hantavirus?
Hantavirus is a rare but potentially fatal disease carried by types of rodents, such as deer mice. Infection with hantavirus can progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), which can be fatal. People become infected through contact with hantavirus-infected rodents or their urine and droppings. The virus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated by rodent urine, droppings, or nesting material that has been stirred up.
Who gets hantavirus?
Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry hantavirus is at risk of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS). Rodent infestation in and around the home remains the primary risk for hantavirus exposure. Even healthy individuals are at risk for HPS infection if exposed to the virus.
Any activity that puts you in contact with rodent droppings, urine, saliva, or nesting materials can place you at risk for infection. Hantavirus is spread when virus-containing particles from rodent urine, droppings, or saliva are stirred into the air. Infection occurs when you breathe in virus particles.
Cases of HPS occur sporadically, usually in rural areas where forests, fields, and farms offer suitable habitat for the virus's rodent hosts. Barns, outbuildings, and sheds are potential sites where people may be exposed to the virus.
Symptoms of Hantavirus infection
Hantavirus symptoms begin one to six weeks (average 2 weeks) after exposure. Patients experience fever, chills, and severe pain in the legs and back, persisting for one to seven days before progression to the cardiopulmonary phase. Approximately 50 percent of patients also experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Those who have had exposure to mice or mice droppings and who exhibit symptom of illness should seek medical attention, and tell a doctor about the rodent exposure. There is no specific cure for hantavirus, but individuals who receive early treatment may have a better chance of recovery.
Preventing Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)
- Eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite.
- Seal up holes and gaps in your home or garage. Place traps in and around your home to decrease rodent infestation.
- Clean up any easy-to-get food.
- If you live in an area where the carrier rodents are known to live, try to keep your home, vacation place, workplace, or campsite clean.
- It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming.
When you encounter spaces that have obvious signs of mice, stop until proper cleaning techniques can be used. Ventilate the space and wet surfaces down with a bleach water solution of a cup and a half of bleach in one gallon of water. Keep the area wet for five minutes before beginning to clean. Use gloves to wipe up and safely discard all contaminated material. Make sure to spray down the area before vacuuming or stirring up dust.
For more hantavirus information, contact Montrose County Health & Human Services at 970-252-5011.
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