Hantavirus is still a thing, and mice are the carriers

This undated photo provided by the National Park Service, a deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus). The deer mouse helps spread hantavirus to humans. Its head and body are 2-3 inches long, and the tail adds another 2-3 inches. Its coat varies from gray to reddish brown, depending on the animal's age. Found almost everywhere in North America, the deer mouse likes woodlands but also turns up in desert areas. An investigation of the hantavirus outbreak blamed for three deaths at Yosemite National Park recommends that design changes to tent cabins and other lodging run by private concessionaires first be reviewed by National Park Service officials. (AP Photo/National Park Service, John Good)

WYOMING – Hantavirus infection remains a potentially deadly health threat, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH). It is particularly troublesome wherever mice are able to get into closed locations and leave droppings behind.

“Hantavirus can be dangerous for people and is sometimes fatal in the cases we see,” said Katie Bryan, surveillance epidemiologist with WDH. “If people are going into places that have been closed for a while, especially if planning a cleanup, we want them to be aware of the threat and be careful.”

Some 14 human hantavirus cases, including seven that resulted in death, have been reported in Wyoming since 1999.

Many Wyomingites might be opening a winterized camper or RV for the first time since last fall in preparation for this season’s outdoor fun. Remember, infected rodents can infest garages, campers, cabins and barns and shed hantavirus through urine, droppings and saliva. People can become seriously ill if they breathe in airborne particles created when contaminated, dried materials are disturbed. Infection is also possible when the virus touches broken skin or mucous membranes, if it is swallowed or after bites.

If a building or enclosed area has been shut or boarded up and unoccupied for a long time, doors and windows should be opened for ventilation at least 30 minutes before cleanup work begins. When working in places that are especially dirty, dusty or infested with mice, extra protective clothing or equipment should be worn such as coveralls, shoe covers and special facemasks known as respirators.

WDH recommends several basic cleanup guidelines:

  • During cleaning, wear rubber, latex, vinyl, or nitrile gloves.
  • Spray rodent urine and droppings with a disinfectant or bleach solution until thoroughly soaked.  Combining 1 ½ cups of household bleach with 1 gallon of water is a good choice.
  • Do not vacuum or sweep urine, droppings, nesting materials or contaminated surfaces until they have been disinfected.
  • Use a paper towel (while wearing gloves) to pick up urine and droppings.
  • After the droppings and urine have been removed, disinfect items that might have been contaminated.