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Warmer Weather Brings Hantavirus Risk

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                      Linda Smith

March 16, 2015                                                                          Public Information Officer                                                                                                                          719-587-5199

Warmer Weather Brings Hantavirus Risk

SAN LUIS VALLEY— Spring cleaning can increase your risk of exposure hantavirus unless you take proper precautions. Hantavirus causes Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a relatively rare but very serious disease that results in death for more than one-third of those who become infected.

In the San Luis Valley, hantavirus is carried by deer mice, which can move into barns, sheds, crawlspaces, and attics to keep warm through the winter. The virus can be found in the urine, saliva and droppings of infected mice. People are infected by breathing in the virus when stirring up dust from mouse nests or mouse droppings in areas with poor ventilation, or when handling mice.

To protect yourself and your family, do not sweep or vacuum mice droppings or nesting materials, because breathing dust containing infected droppings or urine is the most common way to be exposed to the virus.  Before entering or cleaning enclosed buildings and other enclosed areas where mice may have been present, open them up to air out for 30 minutes.  Wear gloves and consider wearing an N-100 rated respiratory mask (available at most hardware stores) when cleaning rodent-infested indoor areas.  Spray mouse droppings and nesting materials with a disinfectant and let them sit for a few minutes before disposing of them in a plastic bag.  Take steps to keep rodents away from your home. 

Early medical care is crucial for those who do become infected.  First symptoms of HPS appear 1-6 weeks after exposure and are flu-like:  fever, headache, muscle pain, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. A few days later, difficulty breathing develops and progresses very quickly to inability to breathe. Anyone who experiences early symptoms in the weeks following exposure to rodents, their droppings, or their nests, should seek medical care immediately and be sure tell the medical provider about the exposure to rodents. 

Since hantavirus was first identified in the Four Corners area in 1993, Colorado has had more confirmed cases of HPS than any other state except New Mexico. Last year there were two confirmed cases of HPS in the San Luis Valley.

For more information call your local Public Health agency (Alamosa County  589-6639; Conejos County 574-4307; Costilla County 672-3332; Mineral County 658-2416; Rio Grande County 657-3352; Saguache County 655-2533) or go to www.cdc.gov/hantavirus

Hantavirus Infographic May2014