Dr. House said to ventilate structures before cleaning and spray any accumulation of dust, dirt and mouse droppings with a mixture of bleach and water. “Never vacuum or sweep an area without first spraying it down,” she emphasized. “If you have deer mice around your home, assume there is some risk of exposure to this virus. The more mice, the greater the risk, but some people have been infected by handling a single mouse.”
Residents are advised to take the following precautions to avoid the disease:
- Rodent-proof buildings by plugging holes or other mouse entryways. Conduct year-round rodent control or hire a professional exterminator.
- Keep indoor areas clean, especially kitchens. Dispose of garbage in sealed containers.
- Store food in rodent-proof containers, including food for pets, livestock and birds.
- Remove rodent hiding places near the home such as wood, junk and brush piles. Store firewood at least 100 feet from your house. Keep vegetation around the house well-trimmed.
Hantavirus normally begins with fever, body aches, headache and vomiting. The symptoms begin from one to six weeks after exposure. At first there are no respiratory symptoms. However, the illness can quickly progress to respiratory distress within one to five days. People may have a dry cough and difficulty breathing caused by the lungs filling with fluid.
Because no effective treatment exists for the disease, Dr. House emphasized prevention as the key. “When hantavirus infection is suspected, early admission to a hospital for careful monitoring is critical. Treatment of symptoms and supportive therapy can be provided in the hospital,” Dr. House said. “If you become ill with these symptoms, it is important to tell your physician about possible exposures to deer mice or rodent-infested environments.”