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First hantavirus death recorded in Washoe reported Tuesday

By Carla O'Day
This is a deer mouse, Peromyscus maniculatus, a hantavirus carrier that becomes a threat when it enters human habitation in rural and suburban areas. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings, or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus. HPS was first recognized in 1993, and has since been identified throughout the United States. Although rare, HPS is potentially deadly. Rodent control in and around the home remains the primary strategy for preventing hantavirus infection. All hantaviruses known to cause hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) are carried by New World rats and mice of the family Muridae, subfamily Sigmodontinae, which contains at least 430 species that are widespread throughout North and South America. Image: James Gathany, CDC, Wikimedia Commons.

The Washoe County Health District on Tuesday reported the first local hantavirus death this calendar year, a male in his 20s who lived in southern Washoe County.

Health officials say the man was likely exposed to rodent droppings and was later hospitalized.

“We are saddened to report this death due to hantavirus,” Kevin Dick, Washoe County Health District health officer, said in a statement. “While rare, this disease is very serious and a reminder for other residents to be very careful in areas where rodents, especially deer mice, are active. Our thoughts go out to the family of this resident.”

It’s estimated that 38% of all hantavirus cases are fatal.

This is the third hantavirus death in Washoe County since May 2019.

According to the health district, infected rodents, most commonly deer mice, shed the virus in their droppings, urine, and saliva. Hantavirus is mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus. It may also be transmitted if a person touches something contaminated with droppings, urine, or saliva and then touches their nose or mouth. This typically occurs when working or recreating in areas where mouse droppings, urine, or saliva may have collected or when cleaning up rodent droppings or nesting material.

The health district says hikers and campers may be at higher risk if they are in areas that are common for heavy rodent infestation such as old cabins, stables, and barns. Scientists also suspect that people can become sick if they eat food contaminated by droppings, urine, or saliva from an infected rodent.

People are asked to take precautions when entering spaces where mice may have been present, such as storage places, garages, sheds, cabins and barns.

Listed below are specific guidelines to follow when cleaning in areas with rodent activity:

  • Do not sweep or vacuum the area with urine, droppings, or nesting material.
  • A solution of 1-part bleach to 10 parts water should be used when cleaning urine and/or droppings. Let it set for 5 minutes before cleaning the area.
  • Wear gloves (i.e., latex, vinyl, rubber) and a face mask to avoid touching or breathing in viral particles.
  • Identify areas where mice are getting in and set traps.
  • Identify and plug openings that may allow rodents entry. A deer mouse can fit through an opening the size of a nickel.  Plug holes using steel wool and put caulk around the steel wool to keep it in place.

For additional information on hantavirus, visit https://www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/index.html

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