With the camping and seeding season now unfolding, Saskatchewan residents are being advised to take precautions to minimize the risk of exposure to hantavirus.
“Hantavirus infection is a rare but potentially fatal illness,” details Saskatchewan’s Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, cough, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. “Individuals who develop fever, coughing and shortness of breath within one to six weeks of potential exposure should seek immediate medical attention.”
In rare cases, Shahab says symptoms may get worse and lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), a rare but often fatal illness. HPS can progress rapidly into serious lung complications. Humans are most often exposed to hantavirus after sweeping or vacuuming rodent infected areas. The virus is transmitted by breathing in contaminated airborne particles from the droppings, urine and saliva of infected rodents.
A person can also be exposed to the virus through rodent bites, if the skin is broken, or through ingestion.
Residents can minimize the risk of becoming infected with hantavirus by avoiding contact with deer mice. Farmers, grain handlers, cottagers, campers and home owners, who are most likely to be exposed, should take precautions when cleaning rodent-infested areas to prevent direct contact and breathing in of air particles that may be contaminated. This includes ventilating the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning, using wet mopping methods and wearing gloves.
Exposure to hantavirus can be reduced by:
• Blocking openings that might allow rodents to enter a building.
• Storing human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids.
• Keeping yards clean, and storing woodpiles above the ground and away from the home.
• When cleaning a home or community, be aware of animal droppings and nesting materials, and take appropriate precautions to avoid exposure.
• Dampening areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach disinfectant and removing droppings with a damp mop or cloth to reduce the chance the virus may become airborne. Avoid using dry cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air-hosing.
There have been 23 cases of Hantavirus reported in Saskatchewan since 1994: four cases in 2004, one case in 2008, one case in 2010 and three cases in 2011. The most recent cases have been found in central parkland areas.
For more information about Hantavirus and how to prevent infection, visit the Ministry of Health’s website at www.health.gov.sk.ca/hantavirus and HealthLine Online at http://www.health.gov.sk.ca/healthline-online.
Guidelines for workplaces with heavy infestations are available at: www.lrws.gov.sk.ca/hantavirus-disease-guidelines-protecting-workers-public.