For those of us who live on the edge of a forest, or in the prairie provinces one of the most insidious dangers is brought into our homes by one of the cutest of forest creatures, the deer mouse. With the season changing and it started to become cooler outside again, this may be a good time to provide a warning about just how serious the problem is.
First, a caution
don’t get too focused on this, as the disease is quite rare. However, it is fatal to almost half the people who contract it, so it’s important to know the situation, and the easy steps to take to avoid exposure.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) was first recognized in the United States in 1993. The circumpolar North, however, has known hantavirus outbreaks for decades – in Europe, different varieties of the virus occur, with different carriers than in North America. In 1913 Russia was hit hard by the disease, then in 1932-1935 most of Scandinavia saw outbreaks, and in 1945 a small area of northern Finland was hit. In Canada, the earliest confirmed case of HPS dates to 1989. Most cases in Canada have been in the areas of Saskatchewan & Alberta, but as of January 2013, a fatal case occurred in the village of Atlin, in the remote north-west corner of British Columbia.
Deer Mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) have large eyes and ears, with bodies about 2.5 – 3.5 inches long and tails the same length. Colors range from grey to reddish brown. The most distinctive feature is a white underbelly; the feet and tail may also have some white on them. Deer mice inhabit most of North America, including much of the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
The greatest danger of contracting HPS is from mouse feces, and in most North American cases, this occurs while cleaning out cabins or working on farms. A mouse nest (burrow) is usually a small pile of grass, twigs or insulation, and the droppings look like black, cooked rice grains. Disease transmission most commonly occurs when rodent droppings are disturbed and the resulting dust is inhaled, so it’s important to not used dry cleaning methods; do not clean up droppings or dead mice with a blower, vacuum, or hand broom! When the situation is out of hand the experts at Got Mold? are here to help you! We will set up containments to make sure nothing gets spread to different areas of the house and we can make sure with 100% satisfaction that the mice and feces are cleaned up. The last thing you should do is attempt to clean the mess up yourself if it is out of hand. This can cause a variety of health issues to you and your family.
The average time between contact with the virus and the onset of illness is two to three weeks. Unfortunately, the initial symptoms look very much like the flu, including fever, muscle ache, cough, headache, nausea, and vomiting. If you develop a fever or respiratory illness that rapidly gets worse and includes shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention. Inform the doctor that you have been in contact with deer mice, and that you suspect possible Hanta Virus infection. There is not yet (January 2013) an approved antiviral treatment available for HPS. Tests with Ribavirin in the late 1990s initially looked promising, but turned out to be ineffective.
Got Mold? believes that crawlspaces, kitchens and wel insulated ceilings are the most likely locations that the hantavirus may be encountered. This is partly due to the fact that rodents are attracted to areas that are undisturbed by humans. Also, crawlspaces are generally dark places that lack ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can rapidly inactivate the hantavirus. The virus will be less likely to be dangerous in areas of the house that receive sunlight through windows. Open windows will also allow contaminants to vent from the home.
Homes that have not been occupied for long periods of time are more likely to experience heavy rodent infestation and hantavirus contamination, among other viruses and bacteria. Foreclosures, in particular, are problem areas. Inspectors should take special precautions when entering vacated homes, or areas in homes that are not adequately ventilated or exposed to sunlight.
The hantavirus can be transmitted to humans in the following ways:
When fresh rodent droppings and urine that contains the hantavirus are disturbed, the virus will become airborne and can be more easily transmitted to humans. The majority of transmissions occur due to inhaled aerosolized droplets that are contaminated with hantavirus.
Touching the nose or mouth after touching anything contaminated by infected rodents can lead to contamination and human infection.
Eating food contaminated by infected rodents can transmit the virus.
Although extremely rare, the virus can be transmitted through a bite from an infected rodent.
The hantavirus cannot be transmitted from infected humans to other humans, or to any other non-rodent animals.