Steamboat Springs With two Hantavirus cases confirmed in Colorado already this year, state health officials are warning residents in rural parts of the state to be cautious when doing spring cleaning and opening cabins, buildings, sheds and barns.
Hantavirus is a serious respiratory disease that can be fatal. Deer mice - which are brown on the top, white underneath and have large ears relative to their head size - carry the disease. Common house mice - all gray with small ears - don't carry the disease.
The virus can infect humans who inhale dirt and dust contaminated with deer mice urine and feces. This occurs when people have contact with infected mice or stir up dust while working in or cleaning out rodent-infested structures.
Melina Evdemon-Hogan, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Health, said cases in Colorado have increased in the past two years.
She said the increase is partly because of more precipitation in the area and could continue into this year with a wet summer.
"It goes with the weather," she said. "With wet weather, rodent populations increase. There's more plants and seeds, and the population of rodents do really well with wet weather."
Evdemon-Hogan said the chance of Hantavirus is greatly reduced when people follow several simple techniques when cleaning areas where rodents are present or have been present.
The first precautions taken should be to rodent-proof the area with traps or poison as well as plugging rodent holes.
"You want to make it the least suitable for rodents as possible," she said.
Before an area is cleaned, Evdemon-Hogan said all windows should be open. The area shouldn't be vacuumed or swept; instead it should be cleaned with a solution of bleach and water. After letting the solution sit for 30 minutes, the area should be cleaned with a wet rag.
Symptoms of Hantavirus appear in one to six weeks, with people showing a high fever, body aches and vomiting. This is followed by cough and a shortness of breath.
Evdemon-Hogan said people who think they may have contracted Hantavirus should get to the hospital as soon as possible.
"The earlier you get the symptoms treated, the better," she said. "But the best way to avoid them is to take the precautions beforehand."
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