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Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome Frequently Asked Questions

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Contact the Colorado Department of Agriculture Plant Industries Division at 303-239-4179 for pesticide licensing/certification information.

 

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Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is a severe viral infection characterized by respiratory distress. The disease begins with a prodromal, or early, stage characterized by fever, headache and severe myalgia (muscle pain), especially in the lower back. Within 1-5 days, the person develops a cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Once these breathing difficulties appear, the disease may rapidly progress to severe respiratory and cardiac failure, during which the patient requires intubation and advanced life-support assistance.

 

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This disease is a public health problem in the western hemisphere, and cases have been found throughout the Americas. The case fatality is high and effective treatment is not yet available. The disease currently has a case fatality rate of approximately 40 percent.

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Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is caused by hantaviruses, which are carried by wild rodents. The hantavirus responsible for the outbreak in the southwestern United States in 1993 is named Sin Nombre virus, and is carried by the deer mouse. Since then, other hantaviruses have been found to cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. These viruses have different rodent hosts, including the cotton rat and the white-footed mouse in the United States and the long-tailed rice rat in Argentina and Chile. All rodents that host hantaviruses that cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome belong to a specific group called "the New-World rats and mice."

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The combined distributions of the New World rats and mice cover all of North, Central, and South America. Therefore, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is not just a problem in the southwestern United States. Since the discovery of Sin Nombre virus, hantavirus pulmonary syndrome cases have been recognized in 30 states of the United States, in Canada, and in six countries in Latin America.

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Since the virus is carried by the deer mouse and other wild rodents, people who are exposed to infected rodents or rodent-infested areas are at risk of hantavirus disease. This includes people living or working in rural or semi-rural areas of Colorado. Deer mice and other rodents that carry hantavirus generally are not found in urban or suburban settings.

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The infected rodents excrete the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. These droppings contaminate dirt and dust that, when disturbed, becomes airborne. People get infected by inhaling airborne particles of the virus or by direct contact with rodents, their droppings or nests.

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The incubation period varies widely, but ranges from 1 to 6 weeks, with an average of 2-3 weeks.

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The early symptoms include fever; headache; myalgia (muscle pain); severe abdominal, joint and lower back pain; nausea; and vomiting. A cough and shortness of breath usually develop 1 to 5 days after the onset of symptoms. The primary symptom of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is difficulty breathing due to fluid build-up in the lungs. This can quickly progress to respiratory failure.

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Currently there is no effective drug treatment for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. When hantavirus infection is suspected or confirmed, early admission to a hospital where careful monitoring; treatment of symptoms; and good, supportive therapy can be provided is important. If you have had exposure to rodents and experience symptoms mentioned above, it would be helpful to mention the exposure to your physician. A quick diagnosis helps the physician take the appropriate measures in managing the disease.

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Avoid rodent contact by taking the following measures:

 

  • Always limit food sources that will attract rodents, both inside and outside the home. Keep pet food and livestock feed in rodent-proof containers. Clean up spillage from bird feeders.

 

  • Limit possible nesting sites in or near the home. Keep grass and vegetation near homes trimmed short. Store firewood above ground and away from the house. Remove abandoned vehicles, wood and junk piles, equipment and other sources of shelter from the property.

 

  • Prevent rodent entrace into the home. Seal all holes or cracks 1/4 inch or larger with steel wool, caulking, metal screening or flashing. Ensure weater seals under doors are in good repair and fit tightly when the door is closed.

 

  • If rodents are present in the home, eliminate them by using "snap-traps" baited with a peanut butter/oatmeal mix. Trapping success will be increased if food sources have been eliminated and entrances to the building sealed to keep new mice from moving in. Continue trapping efforts as long as rodent presence is suspected in the home.

 

  • Use a solution of household bleach (1 cup bleach/gallon of water) to disinfect rodents' carcasses before handling. Spray the rodent and trap and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes. Wear rubber gloves when handling trapped rodents. Disinfect the gloves and the trap afterward.

 

  • Air out rodent-infested buildings or areas at least 30 minutes before cleaning. Do not sweep or dry vacuum rodent-contaminated surfaces, which may stir up the dust and allow potentially contaminated dust to be inhaled. Spray contaminated materials with the bleach solution and allow it to soak in 5-10 minutes before cleaning them with a mop, sponge or wet (shop) vacuum. Wear gloves.

 

  • In heavily rodent-infested areas or situations where ventilation and/or wet cleanup cannot be effectively done, use a respirator with a high efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA or N-100 equivalent).

 

  • When camping or sleeping outdoors, avoid disturbing or sleeping near rodent droppings and/or burrows. Sleep in tents with floors, above ground or on a ground cloth, not directly on the ground.

  


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