Take Precautions to Prevent Hantavirus

Residents, visitors urged to protect themselves against the Hantavirus

FLAGSTAFF, AZ––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 door and windows, leave them open for 30 minutes before cleaning.
  • Do not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means.
  • When rodent droppings or nests are found in and around the home, spray them liberally with a household disinfectant and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes. Any rodent droppings and rodent nests should be sprayed with a pesticide to kill fleas before disinfecting or disposing the carcasses.
  • 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 dispose of them in the trash.

Rodent-proof your home:

  • Prevent rodents from entering the home 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.
  • Eliminate or reduce rodent shelter around the home by removing outdoor junk and clutter, and by moving woodpiles, lumber, hay bales etc., as far away from the house as possible.
  • Do not make food easily available to rodents. Do not leave pet food in dishes. Dispose of garbage in trash cans with tight-fitting lids.

Certain forms of outdoor recreation, such as camping and hiking, can pose a risk for Hantavirus exposure.

  • A few precautions should be taken, including:
  • Campers should not pitch tents or place sleeping bags in close proximity to rodent nests, burrows, or in areas of heavy rodent activity.
  • Before use, properly clean tents and other camping gear that have been stored where rodents may have had access.
  • If possible, do not sleep on the bare ground and zip tents closed to keep animals out.
  • Use only bottled water or water that has been disinfected by filtration, boiling, chlorination, or iodination for drinking, cooking, washing dishes and brushing teeth.