Officials confirm Hantavirus death in Coconino County

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) officials confirmed that a Flagstaff-area woman died recently from complications from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a rare but potentially fatal disease spread by infected rodent droppings.

It is unknown where the woman contracted the virus.

HPS is transmitted to people that come into contact with or breathe infected urine, droppings and/or saliva of wild mice, primarily deer mice. Anyone who comes into contact with rodents that carry Hantavirus is at risk of HPS. The illness is not spread from person to person.

The illness starts with fever, headache and muscle aches, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

The last reported case in Coconino County was 2007 and the individual ultimately recovered. Including this case, there have been 22 confirmed Hantavirus cases in Arizona since 2006, 11 of which have resulted in death.

"It is extremely important that the public takes precautions when entering and cleaning sheds, garages, campers, cabins, barns and other buildings to protect themselves from HPS," said Randy Phillips, CCPHSD environmental services division manager.

To prevent HPS, public health officials recommend the following:

For proper clean-up methods for areas that may have rodent activity:

• Open all doors and windows, leave them open for 30 minutes before cleaning.

• Not stir up dust by vacuuming, sweeping, or any other means.

• When rodent droppings or nests are found in and around the home, spray them liberally with a household disinfectant and allow them to soak for at least 15 minutes. Any rodent droppings and rodent nests should be sprayed with a pesticide to kill fleas before disinfecting or disposing the carcasses.

• After disinfecting, wear rubber gloves and clean up the droppings with disposable materials such as paper towels, rags or disposable mop heads.

• Seal all materials, droppings or nests in double plastic bags and dispose of them in the trash.

To rodent-proof your home:

• Prevent rodents from entering the home by plugging or sealing all holes and gaps to the outside greater than 1/4-inch in diameter. Use steel wool, thick wire screen, metal flashing or cement to seal holes.

• Eliminate or reduce rodent shelter around the home by removing outdoor junk and clutter, and by moving woodpiles, lumber, hay bales etc., as far away from the house as possible.

• Not make food easily available to rodents. Do not leave pet food in dishes. Dispose of garbage in trash cans with tight-fitting lids.

Certain forms of outdoor recreation, such as camping and hiking, can pose a risk for Hantavirus exposure.

Campers can take a few precautions, including:

• Campers should not pitch tents or place sleeping bags in close proximity to rodent nests, burrows, or in areas of heavy rodent activity.

• Before use, campers should properly clean tents and other camping gear that has been stored where rodents may have had access.

• If possible, campers should not sleep on the bare ground and zip tents should be closed to keep animals out.

• Campers should use only bottled water or water that has been disinfected by filtration, boiling, chlorination, or iodination for drinking, cooking, washing dishes and brushing teeth.

More information about HPS is available from the Coconino County Public Health Services District at 928-679-8750, toll-free at 877-679-7272 or www.coconino.az.gov/health or www.cdc.gov/hantavirus/hps.

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