Risk of Hantavirus on the rise

A deer mouse balances on a chain. Photo from Shutterstock

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome can occur during any month, but spring and summer present more opportunities for exposure. Cleaning cabins, outbuildings and campers, and spending more time outdoors puts people in contact with deer mice.

“Each year our state has a few cases of hantavirus,” said Kathy Lofy, health officer at the state Department of Health. “While cases are rare, they often have tragic consequences. There are important steps people can take to lower the risk of contracting this dangerous illness.”

There are typically one to three cases of hantavirus each year in Washington. This severe respiratory disease is caused by inhaling air contaminated with the virus. People are often exposed when rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials are stirred up when sweeping or cleaning.

Hantavirus begins with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches. As it worsens, shortness of breath is caused by fluid filling up the lungs. Thirty-eight percent of hantavirus patients die.

The best way to prevent a rodent infestation is to remove their sources of food, water and shelter. Store pet and people food, as well as bird and livestock feed, indoors in containers with tight fitting lids.

Mice can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter of an inch. Sealing all gaps and holes into buildings can keep them out. Also, avoid stirring up rodent nests, droppings or other rodent-contaminated materials into the air.

Special precautions should be used for cleaning homes or buildings with heavy rodent infestations. Homeowners should consider hiring a professional for such areas. People can follow other simple steps to prevent exposure to rodent-carried diseases as well as learn tips on how to properly clean up a rodent-contaminated area at doh.wa.gov.

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