(Grant County, WA) On October 2, 2012 The Grant County Health District (GCHD) received confirmation from the Washington State Department of Health Public Health Laboratory (DOH) that the death of a Grant County woman was likely caused by Hantavirus. The woman was hospitalized and died in September. The Health District investigation determined the woman was most likely exposed to the virus in her R.V., south of Moses Lake. This is the second Hantavirus-related death in Grant County this year. The two cases are not linked and do not indicate an increased risk to the public.
“The Health District staff and I are saddened by her death. Our sympathy goes out to her family during this difficult time,” states Jefferson Ketchel, Grant County Health District Administrator. “Her family has been tremendously helpful during the investigation into the cause of her illness.”
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a rare illness caused by a virus found in the urine, droppings and saliva of infected rodents. In Washington State, deer mice are the only carrier of the virus. Washington State Department of Health reports that about 14% of deer mice are infected with the virus. As deer mice live throughout Grant County, human cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome can occur in any part of the county.
Since 1993, there have been 45 cases reported in Washington State and 16 (35%) of these patients died. This is comparable to the national average of about 33%. Each year Washington has one to five confirmed Hantavirus cases. Most of these cases occur in Eastern Washington.
People can become sick with Hantavirus by breathing in the air particles stirred up from rodent droppings or nests; there is no evidence that the virus is spread person-to-person. The greatest risk occurs when people enter enclosed areas with rodent infestation and poor air circulation, such as sheds or cabins. Illness usually begins one to six weeks after a person is exposed. Early signs include fever, muscle aches and fatigue. Some people have headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or stomach pain.
“Hantavirus infection is rare but can be fatal in about one out of every three cases,” states Amber McCoy, Registered Sanitarian and Lead Animal Borne Disease Investigator. “We continue to encourage residents to prevent exposure to this rare but life-threatening illness by keeping rodents out of the home and workplace and using appropriate safety precautions when cleaning rodent-infested areas.”
The Grant County Health District recommends the following when cleaning areas where deer mice and other rodents may live:
- Open all doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning.
- Wear gloves and a mask to protect from exposure.
- DO NOT use vacuums, brooms, dusters or anything else that can stir up contaminated dust. Instead:
- Thoroughly wet contaminated areas with a household disinfectant or bleach solution (1 ½ cups of bleach per gallon of water).
- Let soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Using a damp towel, clean up the material, then mop or sponge the area with bleach solution or household disinfectant.
- Spray dead rodents, nesting materials and feces with disinfectant until soaked and double-bag along with all cleaning materials.
- Disinfect gloves before taking them off and thoroughly wash hands afterwards.
While these steps will minimize the risk of exposure, the best way to prevent Hantavirus is to keep rodents out of your home, vacation place, workplace, campsite and outbuildings. Check for gaps and holes, especially around pipes, vents, and under doors. Gaps bigger than the diameter of a dime are large enough for a mouse to pass through, so make sure all gaps and holes are properly sealed; steel wool is an inexpensive yet effective tool for plugging small holes and cracks. Remove inside food sources by making sure food is properly sealed, spilled food is cleaned up right away, pet food is put away after use, and garbage is in plastic or metal containers with tight lids. Reduce food sources and nesting areas outside the home by cleaning up trash, controlling weeds, keeping grains and animal feed in plastic or metal containers with a tight lid, and moving wood piles at least 100-feet away from the home.
For more information on Hantavirus and HPS, go to www.cdc.gov/hantavirus or www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Hantavirus.aspx