Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a serious, often deadly, respiratory disease that has been found mostly in the rural areas of the western United States including California. Although infected deer mice have been found throughout the State, the majority of human cases have occurred at high
elevations in the mountains. The reason for this is not known. There have been two cases in Contra Costa County; one was contracted elsewhere but the source of the other case has not been determined. HPS is caused by a hantavirus that is carried by deer mice (pictured) and passed on to humans through infected rodent urine, saliva, or droppings. Early symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, abdominal, joint and lower back pain and occasionally nausea. These may progress rapidly to difficulty in breathing due to fluid buildup in the lungs, which can lead to respiratory collapse and death. There is no cure, but supportive care including supplemental oxygen can reduce mortality.
Most cases of hantavirus have involved persons breathing contaminated dust while cleaning enclosed spaces like cabins or sheds that are heavily infested with deer mice. You can reduce your risk by following some simple precautions while cleaning rodent-contaminated areas:
1. Air out enclosed spaces before cleaning.
2. Always wear rubber gloves when cleaning up droppings or disposing of dead rodents.
3. Wearing a dust mask can also help prevent accidental hand to mouth contamination.
4. Use snap traps to control mice indoors. Spray mouse and trap with disinfectant and then dispose of both by placing in a sealable plastic bag and placing in the trash.
5. Do not vacuum or sweep areas contaminated with rodent droppings. Spray the area with a household disinfectant or 10% bleach solution and wipe or mop.