Disease Caused by Rodent Exposure Kills Two Utahns

(KCPW News) Two adult Utahns have died in the past month from Hantavirus infection, which leads to a deadly lung disease. And that comes as a surprise to the Utah Department of Health. Epidemiologist JoDee Baker says Utah typically only sees one Hantavirus case per year, and the fatality rate is about 32 percent.

“To have two fatalities so early in the season is definitely unusual. That’s really why we wanted to get the message out to the public to just be aware of what to look for when it comes to rodent exposure, rodent droppings, how to clean appropriately and what symptoms to look for,” she says.

Those who died were residents of Salt Lake County and Millard County. The disease is not spread from person to person, but by breathing in dust around rodent-infested areas that contain the virus. It’s typically observed in the summer months, according to the health department.

The symptoms begin with fever, muscle aches and chills, but Baker notes the disease has a long incubation period.

“…meaning the time that you’re exposed to the time that you develop symptoms can be a while,” Baker explains. “It can be anywhere from two to five weeks, so if people are exposed they’re not going to have symptoms the next day.”

She urges anyone experiencing symptoms who were exposed to rodents to visit a physician.

The Utah Department of Health has this advice for avoiding Hantavirus exposure:

“Activities that can put people at risk include:

• Improperly cleaning up mouse and rat urine, droppings and nests.

• Cleaning a shed or cabin that has been closed for some time.

• Working in areas where mice and rats may live (such as barns).

Although HPS is rare, infection can be prevented by avoiding contact with rodents and their droppings. Try to avoid any activities that might stir up dust around rodent-infested areas.

To safely clean up rodent urine and droppings, wear a mask, glasses, and rubber or plastic gloves. Get the urine and droppings very wet with disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water. Allow to soak for five minutes. Use a paper towel to wipe up urine or droppings and throw the towel into the garbage. Mop the area with disinfectant or a bleach solution.

When finished, wash gloved hands with soap and water or spray a disinfectant or bleach solution on the gloves before taking them off. Wash hands with soap and warm water after removing the gloves.

The recommended cleaning solution is a mixture of 1½ cups household bleach and 1 gallon of water. A smaller amount can be made with one part bleach and 10 parts water.”