Recently two Sacramento County residents were hospitalized with Hantavirus infections. Though they contracted the virus in a neighboring county, it is important for Sacramento County residents to be cautious when engaging in rural outdoor activities such as hiking or camping. Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is a severe, sometimes fatal, respiratory disease caused by infection with a Hantavirus that is carried by rodents. The virus is not transmitted person to person.
Usually symptoms appear within two to four weeks after exposure, but can appear as early as one week or as late as six weeks after infection. First symptoms are like the flu: fever, headache, abdominal, back, and joint pain, sometimes there is nausea and vomiting. However, the main symptom is difficulty breathing, which is caused by fluid building up in the lungs.
People should seek medical help if symptoms appear after direct or indirect exposure to rodents, but especially if they experience difficulty breathing. There is no specific treatment for Hantavirus infection. People who get medical treatment early do better, even if they have to be supported in the intensive care unit with oxygen and help breathing with a machine.
In the western United States deer mice are the reservoir for the virus. The rodents shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. People get infected when they breathe air contaminated with the virus. Most commonly this happens when someone stirs up rodent droppings or nesting material while cleaning a contaminated room such as a shed or a cabin.
Some activities that increase the risk of exposure to Hantavirus in California include:
- Opening and cleaning a previously unused building, especially in rural settings.
- Housecleaning, if there is a rodent infestation.
- Construction, utility and pest control workers can be exposed when they work in crawl spaces, under houses or in vacant buildings.
- Campers and hikers can be exposed when they use infested trail shelters or camp in rodent habitat.
To minimize the risk of Hantavirus infection, follow these simple measures:
- Avoid touching live or dead rodents. Do not disturb rodents, burrows or nests.
- Before occupying abandoned or unused cabins, open them up to air out. Inspect for rodents and do not use cabins if you find signs of rodent infestation such as droppings or nests.
- If you sleep outdoors, check potential campsites for rodent droppings and burrows.
- Disinfect droppings and nesting materials by spraying with a disinfectant, wearing kitchen gloves. Dispose of sprayed materials in a plastic bag.
- Do not sleep near woodpiles or garbage areas, where there may be rodents.
- Avoid sleeping on bare ground. Use a tent with a floor, mat or cots if they are available.
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