How to avoid rare, but potentially deadly, rodent hantavirus in Saskatchewan

How to avoid rare, but potentially deadly, rodent hantavirus in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan residents are being urged to take precautions to protect themselves from a virus spread by rodents.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said people can get hantavirus by breathing in contaminated airborne particles from the droppings, urine and saliva of infected deer mice.  

Although rare, infections can be fatal.

Seek help if symptoms show

Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, cough, headaches, nausea and vomiting. If left untreated, the symptoms can quickly develop into a severe and sometimes fatal lung disease called hantavirus.

Saskatchewan chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said people should be aware of the risk and take precautions to avoid direct contact with mouse droppings, or inhaling contaminated air particles.

"Seek urgent medical attention if you develop a fever, coughing and shortness of breath within one to six weeks of exposure to potentially infested areas," said Dr. Shahab.

The ministry said exposure to hantavirus usually occurs when people clean up enclosed buildings such as grain bins, sheds, barns, garages, trailers and homes, or farm equipment or vehicles that have been in storage.

How to stay safe

It said people should take the following precautions when cleaning rodent-infested areas:

- Ventilate the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning.

- Use wet-mopping methods and wear rubber or plastic gloves.

- Wear goggles and a well-fitting N-95-type filter mask when cleaning areas contaminated by droppings in a confined space.

- Dampen areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach disinfectant and remove droppings with a damp mop or cloth.

- Avoid using dry-cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air hosing.

- Steam clean, shampoo or spray upholstered furniture with a detergent, disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water.

- Wash clothes and bedding with detergent in hot water.

- Block openings that might allow rodents to enter a building.

- Store human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids. 

- Move woodpiles or other potential hiding places for mice away from your home.

There have been 31 cases of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome reported in Saskatchewan since 1994. Ten of them resulted in death.