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State health officials remind Montanans to take precautions to avoid Hantavirus

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 30, 2015

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

               Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391

State health officials remind Montanans to take precautions to avoid Hantavirus

Given the recent investigation into a Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) case in Missoula County, state health officials are reminding Montanans statewide to take precautions this spring and summer to avoid rodent exposures.

“We know the potential exists in Montana for people to become infected with Hantavirus infection,” said Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) Director Richard Opper. “However, by taking a few extra precautions, that potential can be greatly reduced. Stop and think this spring before cleaning out that shed, garage, summer cabin or RV.”

While DPHHS and Missoula City-County Health are still investigating the recent Missoula County case, they do expect the individual to make a full recovery, but stress HPS is a serious  and sometimes fatal condition.

In a typical year, about 1-2 cases of Hantavirus are reported to the state health department. Studies conducted in Montana show that deer mice populations are most likely to be infected with the virus and can result in human exposures. Montana has reported 39 cases since 1993, when the virus was first recognized, making the state second only to New Mexico in the highest rate of reported cases.  Unfortunately, ten of Montana’s cases did not survive the illness.

A person is most likely to become infected with Hantavirus when saliva, urine, or droppings from an infected deer mouse are stirred up and inhaled. This can happen when dust from disturbed rodent excreta or contaminated nesting material become airborne. Transmission may also occur when dried materials contaminated by rodent excreta are directly introduced into broken skin or introduced onto the eye. Although rare, persons have also become infected after being bitten by rodents.

Early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and a cough. Four to 10 days after the initial phase of illness, the late symptoms appear. These include coughing and shortness of breath as the lungs fill with fluid. Seeking medical care and informing your provider of any exposure to rodents at this phase is important. The symptoms develop one to six weeks after exposure.

The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is by controlling rodent populations in areas where one lives and works. When cleaning areas where rodents may nest, the following precautions should be followed:

  • wear rubber or plastic gloves
  • thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water
  • wipe or mop the infected area with a sponge or paper towel (throw away items after use)
  • wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves
  • never sweep or vacuum in these areas as this can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings

More information on Hantavirus and its prevention can be found at the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ website at: http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/

DPHHS also encourages Montanans to watch an educational NBC Montana TV news story on Hantavirus that is available on the agency YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp0c0gQw3f4