Hantavirus is a rare respiratory disease primarily carried by deer mice.  The State of Colorado averages only around 4 cases a year and only 560 total reported cases were on record in 32 states as of mid-December 2010 with the earliest known confirmed case being in 1959.

Transmission

HPS is carried by infected rodents and is shed in their urine, droppings, and saliva.  Airborne transmission primarily occurs when new nesting materials, droppings and/or urine are agitated producing droplets containing the virus which are then inhaled from the air.  Infection can also occur during bites (rare) touching contaminated surfaces followed by contact with the human’s nose or mouth, and/or by consumption of tainted food products. Hantavirus cannot be transmitted from person-to-person through direct contact or through blood transfusion from a person that has recovered from HPS.

Prevention

  • Limiting exposure to areas where high concentrations of deep mice droppings, urine and saliva may be present including rural out buildings such as barns, sheds and shops.
  • Seal buildings and your home from the inside and out in order to prevent rodent entry.  Mice can fit in holes as small as a nickel and rats as small as a quarter.
  • Elimination of food sources – Store pet food and bird seed in tightly sealed containers and only provide food during the day when rodents are less likely to be foraging.  Immediately clean up any spilled food (either human or animal). Keep garbage containers sealed with tight lids and locate them away from the home when possible.
  • Limit nesting areas by removing junk, clutter, wood piles and construction materials.  Store firewood off of the ground and away from buildings.  Keep grass and vegetation cut in areas surrounding buildings.
  • Use caution when handling rodent carcasses.  Spray with disinfectant solution and allow them to soak for 5-10 minutes.  Always wear rubber gloves when handling carcasses, disinfect gloves and then wash hands with soap and water.  Carcasses should be placed inside of a double bag and removed to an outdoor garbage can.
  • When cleaning rodent infested buildings, they should be aired out for a minimum of 30 minutes prior to cleaning.  Sweeping and dry vacuuming of contaminated surfaces should be avoided.  Any contaminated materials and/or surfaces should be sprayed with a bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water) or disinfectant and allowed to soak for 5-10 minuts before cleaning with a mop, sponge or wet vacuum.  Always wear gloves.
  • Additional protection can be obtained by wearing a face mask that includes a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • While camping or sleeping outdoors, do not sleep directly on the ground and avoid disturbing or sleeping in close proximity droppings and/or burrow systems.