(HELENA) Montana health leaders are reminding the public to take precautions this spring to avoid exposure to hantavirus.
Hantavirus is spread through urine and droppings from infected rodents – most commonly deer mice – and can lead to a serious respiratory disease. The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services says spring and summer have the highest risk of infection, as people clean out cabins, sheds and other areas rodents have been living.
According to DPHHS, hantavirus infections are relatively rare, but Montana has one of the highest rates of infection in the U.S. The state has seen 43 reported cases since 1993.
“We have not had a case reported since 2016, and we’re hoping for that trend to continue,” said Magdalena Scott, an epidemiologist with DPHHS.
DPHHS’ prevention motto is “Seal Up, Trap Up and Clean Up”: seal any holes or gaps in the walls where mice can get in, set snap traps to catch any mice inside, and carefully clean any areas with rodent droppings.
“If you sweep or vacuum mouse droppings, that can aerosolize the hantavirus, and that makes it more likely for someone to inhale it and possibly get infected,” Scott said.
The agency recommends soaking mouse droppings and nests with a disinfectant or a bleach and water solution, opening doors and windows to air out the space, wearing rubber or plastic gloves, and using a disposable sponge or paper towel to wipe up the droppings. The whole area should then be cleaned with disinfectant or bleach. After cleanup is finished, you should wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
Symptoms of hantavirus infection include fever, chills, muscle aches and shortness of breath. If you experience those symptoms after a possible rodent exposure, you should see a doctor immediately.