MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

State health officials are reminding Montanans to take steps to avoid Hantavirus this spring.

In a typical year, approximately 1-2 cases of Hantavirus are reported to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. However, DPHHS officials say there are several studies showing deer mice populations in Montana are consistently infected with the virus.

Montana has reported 37 cases since 1993, when the virus was first recognized, making it second only to New Mexico in the rate of reported cases.

“We know the potential exists for people to become infected with Hantavirus,” said DPHHS Director Richard Opper. “However, by taking a few extra precautions, that potential can be greatly reduced. Stop and think this spring before cleaning out your shed, garage, summer cabin or RV.”

It’s important to remember how the illness is contracted in the first place, said Karl Milhon of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Bureau.

“Rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva,” he said. “[It’s] mainly transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus… Avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming if signs of rodents are present.”

While Hantavirus cases can occur during any month, spring and summer present more opportunities for exposure as people clean cabins, outbuildings and campers, and spend more time outdoors where they can come in contact with mouse and rat nesting materials.

The best way to prevent Hantavirus transmission is to control rodent populations in areas where one lives and works.

When cleaning areas where rodents may nest, take the following precautions:

• Wear rubber or plastic gloves.
• Thoroughly spray/soak area with a disinfectant or mixture of bleach and water to reduce dust.
• Wipe or mop the area with a sponge or paper towel, and throw these items away after use.
• Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water after removing gloves.
• Never sweep or vacuum in these areas, as this can stir up dust and aerosolize the droppings.

Early symptoms of Hantavirus infection include fever and muscle aches, and sometimes chills, headache and vomiting. Within a few days, symptoms progress to coughing and severe shortness of breath. The symptoms develop one to six weeks after exposure.

However, early recognition is the key to surviving the illness.

“If someone is exposed to rodents and experiences symptoms, especially severe shortness of breath, they need to seek treatment right away,” Milhon said. “Telling your doctor about any rodent exposure will alert your physician to look closely for any rodent-carried disease, such as Hantavirus.”

Find more Hantavirus information at dphhs.mt.gov.