Sex, Drugs, and Public Health

September 10, 2012

Hantavirus

Filed under: Uncategorized — cbmosher @ 4:17 am

I’ve got two stories for you about Hantavirus, and a greater story, which is information that will help you avoid this serious disease.

In 1993, we in Public Health discovered a new disease. This doesn’t happen very often. From the Four Corners area (where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico are all near each other) reports came of a mystery disease that sickened some previously healthy people and killed several of them. Some were as young as 13 and several were Native American.

They got fevers, and then developed shortness of breath. One person described it as feeling like a tight band around his chest and a pillow in front of his face. By the time Public Health investigators had developed a full picture from all those states, they found twenty-four people who had become ill, many of whom lived in rural areas (like Mariposa County). Twelve of them died of Adult Respiratory Disease Syndrome (ARDS) in which their lungs failed to provide oxygen to their blood. Laboratory investigation implicated a new strain of virus: the “Sin Nombre” (Without a Name) virus in the Hantavirus family. All Hantaviruses are carried by mice and several cause human disease.

Since then, this disease (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome) has hit people sporadically: individual cases from various widely scattered locations, rather infrequently. There have only been approximately 60 cases in California since we began watching in 1993.

Now we have another “cluster” of cases which, as the whole world knows, are strongly suspected to have come from a specific area in Yosemite Park. When, in early August, I went to Yosemite to inspect cabins in the Camp Curry area, all of us there found evidence of mice inside many of the cabins. But the epidemiological connection was with the fancy tent cabins which have hard wall interiors and stoves for heat. It appears that, in those tents, the mouse infestation may have been heavier than in other tents and cabins. Perhaps we’ll find that the space between the tent canvas and the walls has something to do with it. The exposure for campers could have been greater in those tents.

Here’s the greater story: the mice that carry Hantavirus are all over the California mountains. We have been warning people for years about this. Your house, garage, crawl space or attic could be infested with deer mice and, therefore, possibly have Hantaviruses in the mouse poop in your house. Testing has shown that about 14% of these mice carry Hantavirus.

You should prevent mice from getting into your house and other buildings. And if you find evidence of mice (feces, nests) you must protect yourself when cleaning up. Here is how to safely clean up a room with mouse feces:

1. Open all windows and doors to let air circulate through for several hours.

2. DO NOT SWEEP or VACUUM mouse feces.

3. Spray the feces well with a disinfectant solution.

4. Let the disinfectant soak into the feces for at least 15 minutes.

5. Wearing gloves, wipe the wet feces and dispose of in a plastic bag.

For more information, see our website at http://www.mariposacounty.org/health/hantavirus.

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