Wet weather leads to Hantavirus warning

RENO, NV (KOLO) Deer mice may look cute and harmless. But they can carry the deadly Hantavirus. This virus, once inhaled, can cause severe lung problems and even death.

Deer mouse. Photo: Centers for Disease Control

“And fundamentally what happens is your lungs fill with fluid and you pretty much drown in your own fluids,” says Dr. Randall Todd, Washoe County Health District Epidemiologist.

Todd says exposure to Hantavirus happens when residents are spring cleaning or notice mice have entered the home. The virus is in the deer mouse's feces, urine or saliva.

Immediately taking a broom or vacuum cleaner to the dried excrement makes virus go airborne, where it can be inhaled. That's where it enters the body, and within four to ten days patients experience fever, body aches in the major muscles, fatigue, and headache. Later patients will experience coughing and difficulty breathing.

“The mortality rate for this is about 38%. Which is pretty high. But I can remember back in the '93 when this first started it was closer to 50%,” says Todd.

Wet springs can increase the deer mouse's food supply which means more deer mice will follow.

Todd says to keep yourself safe, if you notice mice or their droppings in your home, wet those droppings down with a disinfectant or a bleach water solution first. Wait at least five minutes, then remove the droppings. Be sure to wear a mask and gloves to further limit your exposure.

If you can’t tell the difference between a deer mouse and a regular house mouse?

Todd says don't worry about that. Treat them both the same, their droppings the same, and take those precautions.

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