Hantavirus case confirmed in Central Alberta

Officials emphasize precautionary measures against sometimes fatal illness

  • Aug. 29, 2013 9:00 a.m.

Following confirmation of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome in an individual from a rural community in Central Zone, Alberta Health Services is advising area residents, and all Albertans, to take simple precautions to protect themselves.

“Because humans can be exposed to Hantavirus when the urine or feces of an infected rodent – such as a mouse – become airborne, anyone who disturbs areas of mice or mice droppings can be at risk,” says Dr. Ifeoma Achebe, medical officer of health – Central Zone. “It is essential that Albertans take precautions to protect themselves, and greatly reduce their risk of illness.”

To safely clean mouse droppings, nests, or dead mice, observe these precautions:

– Open doors and windows for ventilation, and keep out of the area for at least 30 minutes prior to commencing clean up.

– Wearing rubber gloves, thoroughly soak droppings, nests and dead mice with a bleach/water solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) or a household disinfectant. Let the bleach water solution sit for five minutes.

– Never disturb any droppings, nests or dead mice, prior to soaking with this bleach solution.

– Mop up bleach-soaked droppings, nest and/or dead mice, or pick up with paper towels, and place them in a plastic bag.

– Seal the bag and put in a garbage container with a tight fitting lid.

– Wash your gloves before removing, and then wash your hands.

Never vacuum or sweep droppings, nests or dead mice. This can create dust that can be inhaled. The dust may contain Hantavirus.

Albertans dealing with significant mouse infestations or with mouse infestations in enclosed spaces with poor ventilation should contact Health Link Alberta, at 1-866-408-5465, to discuss necessary special precautions.

Although Hantavirus infection is rare, it can be fatal. Individuals infected with Hantavirus generally show symptoms one or two weeks after exposure, however symptoms have been known to appear up to five weeks after exposure.

Initial symptoms resemble the flu, including fever, body aches, abdominal problems, but if Hantavirus is involved this can progress to severe trouble breathing.

Anyone who develops difficulty breathing and has recently been in an area contaminated by rodents should see a doctor immediately.

“It is very important that anyone who has recently been in an area contaminated by mice and who has subsequently developed severe flu-like symptoms or difficulty breathing see a doctor immediately.”

According to Alberta Health, deer mice surveys for hantavirus were done in Alberta around a decade ago. Between four and 23% of mice were positive. There was no correlation between the number of mice and the number of human cases. The only confirmed carrier of the Hantavirus in Alberta is the deer mouse (reddish-brown or in some cases grey, but always with white fur on the underside of the neck, belly, feet, and tail).

However, it is possible that other rodents may carry the virus and it is not always easy to determine what kind of mouse one is exposed to (particularly when the only evidence is droppings). The virus does not appear to have any effect on mice which carry it.

The public should know all rodents should be treated as potential carriers.