Following reports last month of the fatal hantavirus case in a Phillips County, CO man, health officials in the state are reporting a recent case of hantavirus exposure in the western part of Garfield County.

Garfield County, Colorado Image/David Benbennick
Garfield County, Colorado
Image/David Benbennick

According to Garfield County Public Health Director, Yvonne Long, “Every year we see cases of hantavirus in Colorado. Our state is second highest in the nation in cases of the disease. “If you have mice in or around your home, barns, or cabins you are at risk for exposure to hantavirus. That is why we are urging people to exercise extreme caution when they enter or clean up an area with evidence of rodents,” she said.

Hantavirus is carried in the saliva, urine and droppings of certain infected mice that are found in the western and central parts of the United States. When contaminated dirt and dust are stirred up, the virus becomes airborne. Most people become infected by breathing in the particles, but it can also be transmitted through the bite of an infected mouse.

“This is the first case of hantavirus in Garfield County reported this year,” said Long. “There is close to a 40 percent mortality rate associated with the virus. In the case we had last year, thankfully the person who was exposed successfully recovered. Hantavirus is extremely serious and with its high mortality rate, we urge people to take serious precautions.”

It takes an average of two to four weeks for symptoms of hantavirus to appear. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches in the large muscle groups. Additional symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems. Within one to five days after early symptoms begin, late symptoms consistent with respiratory distress begin. These include cough and difficulty breathing.

There is no specific treatment, cure, or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, individuals who recognize the symptoms and seek prompt medical treatment may have a better chance of recovery.

To avoid exposure, do not sweep or vacuum areas where rodents have been present. Instead wear protective gloves and wet down the areas with a bleach and water solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Keep the area wet for five minutes before beginning clean up. Wipe up and dispose of all contaminated material. When disposing of dead rodents, always use gloves and place rodents in sealed plastic bags before placing in the trash.

Homes can be rodent-proofed by eliminating food sources and removing abandoned vehicles, brush, wood and junk piles where rodents may hide. Plug holes and other mouse entryways. Use traps, poisons, or if necessary hire a professional exterminator. Keep indoor areas clean and store food in rodent-proof containers; this includes pet, and livestock food. Store firewood at least 100 feet from the house and keep vegetation around the house well trimmed.