Province urges caution to avoid exposure to hantavirus

The virus has recently claimed another victim

Manitoba Public Health is urging Manitobans to use caution when working around or cleaning out areas where it appears that mice are living.

Hantavirus infection, also known as hanta virus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), is a very rare viral disease which can be fatal. The virus is found in urine, feces and saliva of infected deer mice.

There have been four lab-confirmed cases of HPS in Manitoba since 1999 when record-keeping began in the province. Manitoba Health has confirmed a recent death from complications due to HPS. This is the first recorded death in Manitoba from HPS since 2000.

Hantavirus infection usually occurs when people are working in an enclosed space and breathe in the air-borne virus. Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough, which progresses to respiratory illness. These symptoms develop within one to six weeks after exposure to deer mouse excreta.

Although there is no specific treatment for HPS, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early.

People are advised to be very careful when they are involved in activities which may put them in contact with rodents or their droppings. The best defence against hantavirus is to avoid disturbing areas of rodent infestation including nests and droppings. Other recommended precautions include:

• Sealing up homes and cabins so mice can’t enter;

• Airing out enclosed areas or closed-up buildings as much as possible before entering;

• Wearing gloves and appropriate masks when cleaning up nests, droppings and areas that may be contaminated with the virus;

• Dampening areas contaminated with mouse droppings with bleach disinfectant and removing droppings with a damp mop or cloth to reduce the chance the virus may become airborne (not vacuuming or sweeping);

• Ensuring handwashing takes place after cleanup is complete;

• Putting hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from homes;

• Cleaning up trash and junk piles; and

• Not leaving pet food and water where mice can get to it.

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