It’s that time of the year again when spring time cleaning is about to begin in buildings and other areas that have not been used since last fall. Farmers and individuals living in communities, cabin owners, gardeners and others will soon be going into buildings and sheds, wood piles, farm machinery and other vehicles, and storage spaces to get them ready for the upcoming season. Unfortunately, mice may have contaminated these areas since they were last used.
Hantavirus is a rare but serious disease that is spread through rodent urine, saliva, or feces. In Saskatchewan, there have been 26 Hantavirus cases since 1994, eight of which resulted in death.
Exposure to rodent saliva, urine or feces can lead to Hantavirus infection. This is usually caused by inhaling dust contaminated by these rodent products, especially in a closed or poorly ventilated space. This inhalation typically occurs while cleaning out buildings, vehicles or other contaminated spaces. Contaminated dust is easily stirred up inside sheds, cabins, grain bins, wood piles, vehicles and garages. Hantavirus is not spread from person to person or from pets to humans; it can only be spread by direct inhalation of contaminated dusts that contain the virus.
While Hantavirus illness is unusual, people who do get sick may have flu-like symptoms and sometimes nausea and vomiting. In rare cases, people may develop a severe lung infection known as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.
Dr. David Torr serves as the Consulting Medical Health Officer for the Cypress Health Region and he encourages everyone to take precautions to prevent against the risk of Hantavirus. "As rare as the Hantavirus illness may be, we do know that deer mice are present in our health region and therefore, there is a risk for the disease,” says Dr. Torr. “We have had positive cases in the past and everyone should take precautionary measures to avoid exposure and possible resulting illness."
There are a number of preventative actions to protect you against the risks of Hantavirus:
- Aerate any potentially affected areas by allowing them to air out for at least 30 minutes before entering.
- Wear personal protective equipment when coming into contact with dusts and surfaces that may have been contaminated by mice saliva, urine or feces.
- Surfaces should be sprayed with a disinfectant and allowed to air out for another 30 minutes.
- Rodent droppings should be sprayed with a 10 per cent solution of bleach, and all potentially contaminated surfaces should also be washed with bleach.
- Remove food sources and hiding places for mice.
For more details on hantavirus and related preventative measures, you are encouraged to visit http://www.lrws.gov.sk.ca/hantavirus-disease-guidelines-protecting-workers- public or http://www.health.gov.sk.ca/hantavirus. The Cypress Health Public Health team also welcomes your questions by emailing them at PHIs@cypresshealth.ca or calling 306-778-5280.