Protecting the Homestead From Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

Know and Understand Hantavirus Symptoms and Ways to Prevent It

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By Karin Deneke – It doesn’t make much difference where you live, chances are, sooner or later you will encounter rodents. Gnawing sounds coming from the void between interior walls or from the attic of your home could rob you of your much-needed sleep. Tell-tale droppings underneath furniture or even worse, inside your pantry, will drive you to wage war with these little pests.

Cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a life-threatening infection that can be transmitted by deer mice, white-footed mice, cotton rats, and rice rats have been confirmed in the majority of our fifty states.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) records from 1993 to date, show that 690 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome were reported in thirty-five states. Of these 36 percent resulted in death. Victims ranged between the ages of five to eighty-four years. Most cases, about 96 percent, were recorded west of the Mississippi River. New Mexico, Colorado and California lead in reported cases. Deer mice were suspected as the primary vectors.

SPECIES LOCATION HABITAT
Deer Mouse North America Woodlands, Deserts, High Elevations
White-Footed Mouse Eastern United State Woody or Brushy Areas, Mixed Forests & Edge of Agricultural Fields
Cotton Rat Southeastern United States Overgrown Shrubs, Tall Grasses
Rice Rat Southeastern United States Semi-Aquatic

Five cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome were confirmed in 2016 in San Luis Valley, a high elevation alpine valley in south-central Colorado. Two of these cases resulted in death. Symptoms of this rare respiratory disease, that affects the lungs and the heart, are fever and muscle aches, fatigue and shortness of breath. Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is often confused with influenza, which delays victims consulting a physician. The chances for a complete recovery from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, are much improved if diagnosed early.

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Deer mice, depending on their habitat and geographic area, have grayish to reddish brown fur, white bellies, and a bi-colored tail, changing from dark to light toward the end. Their body length is approximately four inches, not counting the tail. Deer mice are often referred to as field mice and are the predominant Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome carriers.

White-footed mice, slightly larger, closely resemble deer mice. Their fur on the back and sides is more reddish than grayish-brown, is not as soft, and appears rougher. A darker stripe often runs down the middle of the back, and the tail is not white at the end, compared to that of the deer mouse.

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Pet owners often wonder whether or not these mice can transmit Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome to their keepers. Presently no evidence exists that dogs and cats can be affected by the disease, or transmit it to humans.

How Can We Protect Ourselves from Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome?

First of all, do not panic. The percentage rate of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome-carrying mice is low; ten to fifteen percent at the most. However, mice show no symptoms from the virus, as it coexists peacefully with its hosts. Infected mice rarely transmit the disease through bites that break the skin, instead they shed the virus through their saliva, droppings, and urine.

No matter where you live, rodents will try their best to invade your living space. An opening the size of a dime is all it takes to give them access. Make rodent-proofing your home a continuous effort. There are natural ways to get rid of mice. It’s also good to know how to repel rats, including rat hunting dogs. Around your home, keep window screens and weather stripping in good repair. Examine your pet door for tightness. When plugging holes avoid foam insulation, rodents can chew right through it. Instead use materials like steel wool,  hardware cloth, cement or metal sheeting.

Rodents prefer to run along walls, so place your traps or bait stations accordingly. Make sure you wear protective gloves while handling and disposing of dead mice.

Do not create a feeding station for mice. Keep your home clean and store food in mouse-proof cabinets or containers. On the exterior of your house, along the foundation, clear weeds to eliminate sources of nesting materials.

Farmers and ranchers battle a variety of rodent species where livestock is being housed and feed is being stored.

Retired farm equipment, junk cars, and old tires left in patches of weeds offer great nesting sites for rodents. It is recommended to locate these items at least 100 feet away from a residence. The best option would be removal.

Even though Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome infection rates are projected at a low 10 to 15 percent in most suspect regions, it is best not to risk exposure to the virus.

House and barn cats may be one of the most valuable weapons when it comes to staging war on mice. But don’t count on complete eradication. And depending on where you live, birds of prey, snakes, weasels, and coyotes, also keep rodent populations down.

Hikers and backpackers should thoroughly inspect trail shelters, cabins, trailers and or yurts, prior to making camp. Airing out these shelters, and checking for signs of rodents prior to occupancy, makes sense. Avoid breathing in the dust by wearing a mask when sweeping out suspect sheds or buildings. It is also important to practice vigilance when it comes to disposing of any trash or food waste before vacating such shelters or cabins.

Hantavirus has not claimed many victims, yet it is a more serious concern for residents living in the states west of the Mississippi. A good source of information for questions dealing with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome is your local Health Department or your County Extension Agent. You can also call the CDC Hotline at 1-800-232-3322 for information.

Have you dealt with Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome? Have you been successful repelling mice and rats? Let us know in the comments below.

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