Over the past month, one case of hantavirus has been reported in Denver, Colorado in addition to two reported cases in Farmington, New Mexico. The risk of hantavirus increases as warm weather continues and residents begin their spring cleaning early. While most human cases are reported in spring and early summer, hantavirus can be contracted year-round.

Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice in our area, and is present in their droppings, urine and saliva. Dried droppings or urine can be stirred up in dust, and it is possible for humans to get hantavirus by breathing in the contaminated air. Hantavirus is a rare disease that causes severe illness which can be life-threatening, especially if not detected quickly. Symptoms include fever, severe muscle aches and fatigue, which often occur within two weeks of exposure. Other symptoms that occur later include difficulty breathing, headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Residents should inform their doctor of any exposure to large amounts of rodent droppings/urine if they have these symptoms.

Suggestions to avoid hantavirus when spring cleaning, especially where rodent droppings may be present:

  • Wear a mask (N95 mask is best, and can be purchased at most home improvement stores)
  • Wear rubber or plastic gloves
  • Ventilate the room by opening windows and doors
  • Spray all droppings down with a bleach solution (1 part bleach, 9 parts water) before vacuuming or sweeping. Be sure the droppings are very wet.
  • Clean up the droppings with paper towels, and throw the used paper towels into a plastic garbage bag.
  • Place the garbage bag in a second garbage bag and dispose of in a covered trash can.
  • Wash gloved hands before removing gloves, and wash hands after removing gloves.

Hantavirus has not been shown to infect other kinds of animals, such as dogs, cats, or farm animals. The disease is not contagious and does not spread from human to human. San Juan Basin Public Health recommends everyone control the presence of rodents around their home; and, when heading outdoors, particularly to areas where wild animals and insects are active, wear insect repellant, appropriate clothing and protect your pets from fleas and ticks. Do not to handle or feed wild animals especially those that appear sick; and do not pick up dead animals or animal waste. Also, remember to talk with your children about these precautions.

Learn more: To learn more about the symptoms, treatments, and other information about hantavirus, visit http://sjbpublichealth.org/communicabledisease/. Information is also available from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment at www.cdphe.state.co.us  or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.