FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - As warmer temperatures return to northern Arizona, so does the threat of Hantavirus, a rare but fatal disease spread by infected rodent urine and droppings.
Officials with the Coconino County Public Health Services District (CCPHSD) remind the public to take a few precautions when entering and cleaning sheds, garages, campers, cabins, barns and other buildings to protect themselves from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).
"It is extremely important to take the time to use appropriate precautions to protect against Hantavirus," said Marie Peoples, CCPHSD interim chief health officer. "Disturbing rodent nests or burrows or cleaning buildings where rodents have been living can increase the risk of exposure to the illness."
HPS is transmitted to people who come into contact with or breathe airborne particles contaminated with infected urine, droppings or saliva of wild mice. The illness starts with fever, headache and muscle aches, and progresses rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.
In 2013, two Hantavirus cases were reported within the county. The first case resulted in the person's death and the second person recovered.
Since 2001, there have been 36 confirmed cases of Hantavirus in Arizona. Over 40 percent of these cases resulted in death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases have been reported in 34 states and 36 percent of all reported HPS cases have resulted in death.
Proper clean-up methods:
Open all door and windows, leave them open for 30 minutes before cleaning.
Do 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 of 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.
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.
Do not make food easily available to rodents. Do not leave pet food in dishes. Dispose of garbage in trash cans with tight-fitting lids.
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 at www.coconino.az.gov/health.