The New Mexico Department of Health has reported a hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) case in a 50-something Taos County man. The patient is currently hospitalized.

The patient reported to health officials he had cleaned a rodent-infested shed about three weeks before he began to feel sick.

Deer mouse/CDC

HPS is a severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease in humans that’s transmitted by infected rodents through exposure to their urine, droppings or saliva.

People are usually exposed to hantavirus around their homes, cabins or sheds especially when they clean out or explore enclosed, poorly ventilated areas that have lots of mouse droppings. Hantavirus particles are small and light enough that they can be carried in the air and be inhaled by humans.

Early symptoms of HPS infection may look and feel like the flu or a “stomach bug” and include fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough which can progress to respiratory distress and severe illness.

Symptoms typically develop within one to six weeks after rodent exposure, and although there is no specific treatment for HPS, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early and the healthcare provider is told about the exposure to rodents or their droppings. The deer mouse is the main carrier for Sin Nombre virus, which is the hantavirus strain found in New Mexico.

Two of New Mexico’s three HPS cases last year died. All three of the victims were from McKinley County. There were no cases of HPS in 2018.

The best way to prevent contracting HPS is Seal Up – Trap Up – Clean Up:

  •  Air out closed‐up buildings such as cabins and sheds, as well as abandoned or stored vehicles before entering
  •  Trap mice until they are all gone
  •  Seal up any entry points in homes and shelters where rodents can slide in unnoticed.
  •  Soak nests and droppings with a disinfectant such as a 10 percent bleach solution before cleaning them up
  •  Don’t vigorously sweep up rodent droppings as you would anything else because that’s when the virus can become airborne and inhaled
  •  Keep hay, wood, and compost piles that attract rodents as far as possible from your home
  •  Get rid of any trash and junk piles where rodents can live
  •  Don’t leave your pet’s food and water where mice can get to it