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Front Page » February 13, 2003 » Local News » Health agencies stress hantavirus prevention
Published 4,618 days ago

Health agencies stress hantavirus prevention

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Staff writer

As the spring season draws near, residents throughout Carbon County will begin the task of completing the traditional cleaning chores.

The debris which has collected around the house throughout the winter is now in need of being cleaned up.

It is also common for homeowners to thoroughly clean their homes during the spring months.

As this extensive cleaning season approaches, Castle Valley residents are reminded to use caution while cleaning either indoors or out in order to avoid becoming infected with the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Humans can become exposed to hantavirus by coming in contact with rodents such as deer mice.

Although direct contact may not be made with these small animals, the potential risk of contacting the disease remains.

Hantavirus is spread to humans in a number of ways. The most common is through rodent droppings, urine or saliva.

If a human physically touches an object which has been contaminated with rodent fluids, the subject may become ill with the disease.

Often times, victims of the hantavirus disease cannot remember coming in direct contact with such waste materials. HPS can be transmitted, however, through respiratory contact. The process occurs when infected material is spread throughout the air.

Dusty areas can be prime hosts to the deadly disease and when the dust is stirred up, the virus is then spread throughout the air in a process known as aerosolization.

Aerosolization represents the most common way that the virus is spread to humans.

Transmission can happen any place that an infected rodent has infested. This could be barns or sheds or other outbuildings, warehouses or summer cottages which have been closed for the winter season.

But local residents should also be aware that the rodents infest homes as well.

According to Southeastern Utah Health District director Dave Cunningham, the dry winter will increase the mouse population in residential areas and the rodents will be seeking any food source available.

In order to avoid the danger of coming in contact with infested materials, it is suggested that homeowners take simple precautions to avoid the transmission of the virus.

Implementing the precautionary measures can be done in a number of ways.

The most common precaution used to avoid rodent contamination is to make sure that the small animals cannot enter an enclosed area or home.

To do so, residents should plug up, screen or cover all openings into a private dwelling that a mouse might get through.

Openings larger than one-quarter inch wide are prime entrances for rodents.

People should also plug holes around the base of buildings. This includes gaps under doors and around pipe openings and vents.

Homeowners should also remove food sources and nesting places from inside the home and yard.

Pet food is a prime attraction for mice. Dog or cat owners as well as livestock producers should store all pet food, grains and animal feed in containers with tight fitting covers.

It is recommended that plastic trash cans with lids be used for kitchen trash and food scraps indoors.

Rodents thrive on garbage. The types of garbage includes junk piles, debris and old cars where mice can readily find a place to nest.

To avoid rodents from nesting around private residences, people should keep weeds, brush and grass cut.

Citizens should stack firewood, lumber and hay 12 inches off the ground and as far away from the home as possible.

If rodents have been spotted in or around the home, residents should get the mice out as soon and safely as possible.

The use of spring-loaded mousetraps is recommended.

Wear gloves and spray bleach and water solution before handling dead mice.

Poison bait should be used according to directions located on the product packaging.

If cleaning an area suspected of being exposed to rodents will raise dust and is unavoidable, a respirator equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter should be used.

The chance of contacting the virus indoors is quite high. In order to reduce this risk, keep a clean home especially in the kitchen.

Wash dishes, clean counters and floors and keep food covered in a rodent-proof container.

Hikers and campers can also be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in other rodent habitats.

Construction and utility workers can be exposed to the virus when they work in crawl spaces under houses or in vacant buildings that may have rodent populations.

Overall, the chance of being exposed to hantavirus is greatest when people work, play or live in closed spaces where rodents are actively living.

However, according to the United States Center for Disease Control, recent research results show that many people who have become ill with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome got the disease after having been in frequent contact with rodents and/or their droppings for some time.

In addition, many people who have become ill reported that they had not seen rodents or their droppings at all.

Carbon County residents who live in an area where rodents such as deer mice are known to live, should take sensible precautions before participating in activities posing a risk of exposure to the virus.

When cleaning rodent infested areas, the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends that Carbon County residents:

•Wear latex or rubber gloves.

•Mix a solution of one cup bleach to 10 cups water or use a household disinfectant that kills viruses.

•Do not vacuum, sweep or dust. This may spread the virus through the air.

•Use rags, sponges and mops that have been soaked in the disinfectant solution.

•Thoroughly spray or soak dead mice, traps, droppings or nests with disinfectant or bleach solution.

•Wipe down counter tops, cabinets and drawers. Mop floors and baseboards regularly.

•Steam clean carpets, rugs and upholstered furniture.

•Wash clothes and bedding in hot water and detergent. Set the dryer on high.

•To dispose of contaminated items, including dead mice and mousetraps, put them in a plastic bag. Seal the bag and put it in another plastic bag. Seal the outer bag and put in the outdoor garbage can.

•Disinfect or throw away the gloves used to clean the contaminated area.

•When done, wash hands or shower with soap and hot water.

•If cleaning out a building, air it out for at least one hour by opening windows and doors. Leave the building while it is airing out.

•Wear gloves and a dust mask while cleaning the building.

•Spray dirt floors with the bleach or disinfectant solution.

Carbon County residents are far from immune to this disease. In fact, over the past 10 years there has been three deaths and two confirmed cases of the virus according to the local health department.

The first symptoms a victim experiences with HPS may resemble other common illnesses.

Hantavirus symptoms usually begin about one to three weeks after exposure to the virus and usually lasts three to five days.

The following symptoms almost always occur in the early stages of the HPS illness:

•Sudden fever.

•Muscle pain, especially in the thighs, hips and back.


The following symptoms also may develop in the early stages of hantavirus in about one-half of the subjects who have HPS.



•Nausea and vomiting.


•Abdominal pain.

•General feeling of being ill.

•Dizziness and light-headedness.

Other less common symptoms of HPS that may occur include the following.

•Joint pain.

•Back or chest pain.


About four to seven days after these symptoms begin to appear, the following severe symptoms usually develop.

•Severe shortness of breath.

•Worsening cough.

•Rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing.

•Fluid buildup in the lungs.

Once these symptoms develop, a person's condition worsens rapidly and hospitalization within 24 hours often is necessary to sustain life.

Increasingly, mild cases of infection are occurring, but these people also need to be admitted to the hospital.

If the symptoms occur following a cleaning project, the possible hantavirus victim should contact a physician or health expert for assistance.

Common cleaning tasks do not have to turn deadly. Exercising caution and following the appropriate cleaning steps will help ensure that the spring cleaning season will be safer for Carbon County residents.

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