Warm Weather Brings Risk From Rare Virus

Precautions urged to help prevent spread of hantavirus

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As warmer temperatures and wetter weather return to northern Arizona, so does the threat of hantavirus, a rare but fatal disease spread by infected rodent droppings.

The Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) reminds the public to take a few precautions when entering and cleaning sheds, garages, campers, cabins, barns and other buildings to protect themselves from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

“As preparations for summer activities begin, we want to remind everyone to take the time to use appropriate precautions when entering and cleaning structures and buildings,” said Kimbal Babcock, CCPHSD interim chief health officer.

HPS is transmitted to people who come into contact with or breathe the urine, droppings and saliva of wild mice, primarily deer mice. The illness starts with fever, headache and muscle aches, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

The last reported case of hantavirus in Coconino County was reported in 2007, but to prevent HPS, public health officials recommend the following:

Proper clean-up methods

• Open all doors and windows, leave them open for 30 minutes before cleaning.

• Do not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means.

• If you find rodent droppings or nests around the home, spray them with a disinfectant and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes. Also use a pesticide to kill fleas before disinfecting.

• After disinfecting, wear rubber gloves and clean up the droppings with disposable materials such as paper towels, rags or disposable mop heads.

• Seal all materials, droppings or nests in double plastic bags and throw them away.

Rodent-proof your home

• Keep rodents out of the house by plugging or sealing all holes and gaps to the outside greater than 1/4-inch in diameter. Use steel wool, thick wire screen, metal flashing or cement to seal holes.

• Remove outdoor junk and clutter and by moving woodpiles, lumber, hay bales etc., as far away from the house to avoid attracting rodents.

• Keep food away from rodents by not leaving out pet food, keeping trash emptied and stashed in cans with tight-fitting lids.

Certain forms of outdoor recreation, such as camping and hiking, can pose a risk for hantavirus exposure. Consider the following precautions:

• Don’t pitch tents or sleep close to areas of heavy rodent activity.

• Clean stored tents and other camping gear before use.

• Don’t sleep on bare ground.

For more information, call Coconino County Health Services toll-free at 1.877.679.7272 or visit www.coconino.az.gov/ health.

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