As summer edges ever closer, health officials across the U.S. are urging people to protect themselves from the rare but potentially deadly hantavirus. And while the majority of human hantavirus infections remain concentrated in the American West, even states like Florida, Maine and Vermont have documented cases in recent years.
Of the 659 confirmed human cases seen in this country since 1993, 235 of them–more than 35%–have been fatal. If your weekend plans include cleaning up an attic, cellar, outbuilding or any other space where mice or other rodents may have overwintered, it’s important, say health experts, that you know how to protect yourself. Here are some tips from the Wyoming Department of Health, which has seen 14 cases in the past several years.
- If the space you are cleaning out has been closed up for a while, air the space out for at least half an hour by opening up all doors and windows.
- In any area that is dirty or dusty–or if you see any evidence of rodent activity–wear a respirator and gloves. Also consider shoe covers and overalls.
- When you find rodent droppings or urine stains, soak it with a disinfectant cleaner and use a generous wad of paper toweling to pick up the mess.
The agency recommends 1.5 cups of bleach in a gallon of water as a disinfectant. And, of course, you should not sweep or vacuum any potentially contaminated area until it has been properly disinfected.
Rodents known to carry hantavirus include:
- Cotton Rat
- Deer Mouse
- Rice Rat
- White-footed Mouse
When mapped together, the combined range of these animals shows at least the potential for hantavirus to exist in every U.S. state except Hawaii. Even Alaska, which has documented no confirmed human cases to date, plays host to rodents that have tested positive for the virus.