When mice get into closed locations and leave droppings behind, hantavirus infection remains a potentially deadly health threat, according to the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH).
“Hantavirus can be dangerous for people and is sometimes fatal in the cases we see,” said Katie Bryan, surveillance epidemiologist with WDH. “If people are going into places that have been closed for a while, especially if planning a cleanup, we want them to be aware of the threat and be careful.”
Fourteen human hantavirus cases, including seven that resulted in death, have been reported in Wyoming since 1999.
Infected rodents can infest garages, campers, cabins and barns and shed hantavirus through urine, droppings and saliva. People can become seriously ill if they breathe in airborne particles created when contaminated, dried materials are disturbed. Infection is also possible when the virus touches broken skin or mucous membranes, if it is swallowed or after bites.
If a building has been closed and unoccupied for a long time, doors and windows should be opened for ventilation at least 30 minutes before cleanup work begins. When working in places that are especially dirty, dusty or infested with mice, extra protective clothing or equipment should be worn such as coveralls, shoe covers and special face masks known as respirators.
Bryan recommended several basic cleanup guidelines:
During cleaning, wear rubber, latex, vinyl, or nitrile gloves.
Spray rodent urine and droppings with a disinfectant or bleach solution until thoroughly soaked. Combining 1 ½ cups of household bleach with 1 gallon of water is a good choice.
Do not vacuum or sweep urine, droppings, nesting materials or contaminated surfaces until they have been disinfected.
Use a paper towel (while wearing gloves) to pick up urine and droppings.
After the droppings and urine have been removed, disinfect items that might have been contaminated.