Two Utah deaths from Hantavirus exposure

Posted at 11:29 AM, Jun 05, 2012
and last updated 2012-06-05 20:53:25-04

Utah public health officials have confirmed two deaths in Utah as a result of Hantavirus exposure.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare, but deadly, lung disease that spreads by breathing in dust around rodent-infested areas.  It does not spread from person-to-person.

The known cases in Utah occurred in Millard County and Salt Lake County. The heath department is investigating the deaths to see how the individuals were exposed.

Symptoms are similar to those experienced with the flu and take several weeks for the virus to become fatal. Health officials said it is treatable.

"It is not always fatal. We actually have a lot more information that we used to when Hantavirus first came around," said Jodee Baker, Utah Department of Health. "The outcome is a lot better if people just catch it early."

Field mice are the primary concern, but the health department said it is a good idea to treat all rodent droppings as if they carry the disease.

The Utah Department of Health explained in a press release as follows the precautions that should be taken when cleaning up rodent dropping.

Activities that can put people at risk include:

  • Improperly cleaning up mouse and rat urine, droppings and nests.
  • Cleaning a shed or cabin that has been closed for some time.
  • Working in areas where mice and rats may live (such as barns).

Although HPS is rare, infection can be prevented by avoiding contact with rodents and their droppings.  Try to avoid any activities that might stir up dust around rodent-infested areas.

To safely clean up rodent urine and droppings, wear a mask, glasses, and rubber or plastic gloves. Get the urine and droppings very wet with disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water.  Allow to soak for five minutes.  Use a paper towel to wipe up urine or droppings and throw the towel into the garbage. Mop the area with disinfectant or a bleach solution.

When finished, wash gloved hands with soap and water or spray a disinfectant or bleach solution on the gloves before taking them off.  Wash hands with soap and warm water after removing the gloves. The recommended cleaning solution is a mixture of 1½ cups household bleach and 1 gallon of water.  A smaller amount can be made with one part bleach and 10 parts water.

Hantavirus symptoms generally begin with a fever greater than 100.5° F, muscle aches, and chills. Other common symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and headache. Less common symptoms are dizziness or a light-headed feeling, sweating, and joint, back, chest, or abdominal pain. If you experience symptoms, contact your medical provider immediately.

For more information on hantavirus and proper handling of rodent droppings, visit the following link below: