Spring cleaning brings risk of hantavirus

Spring cleaning season is here, and with it comes an increased risk of contracting the rare but serious hantavirus.

Rare but serious virus spread through deer mice droppings, urine, saliva

The hantavirus disease is spread through dear mouse urine, saliva and droppings. (The Associated Press)

Spring cleaning season is here, and with it comes an increased risk of contracting the rare but serious hantavirus.

The Government of Saskatchewan is reminding residents to be wary of this virus, which can lead to hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The disease is rare but often fatal and can cause serious complications including severe respiratory failure.

Dr. Denise Werker, deputy chief medical health officer for the province, said Saskatchewan is disproportionately affected by the disease, making up 36 per cent of all cases in Canada since 1994.

"Because of our rodent population but also because of activities that people do," she said. "We're a primarily rural based population and people are in the habitats where mice can be found."

The flu-like symptoms of hantavirus include:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Shortness of breath.

The symptoms can occur any time between three days to six weeks after exposure, though usually appear around 14 days later.

If you experience these symptoms after having been in contact with mouse feces, you should seek treatment immediately, and tell the health care providers that you may have been exposed to hantavirus.

Werker said there is no cure for the virus or the possible resulting pulmonary syndrome, so you should go to an emergency department if symptoms arise.

"It's extremely important for people to recognize the signs and symptoms and to seek urgent care."

Spring cleaning danger

Since 1994, there have been 31 reports of people who have contracted hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. Ten of those people died.

One of those people was 26-year-old Robyn Young, who died in 2014 after doing some spring cleaning in her garage. She had encountered a lot of mouse droppings while she was cleaning.

You're at risk of contracting the virus if you've come into contact with deer mice, their droppings, or their nesting materials.

For most people, they catch it when cleaning or demolishing structures that have been poorly ventilated, like garages, sheds, barns, grain bins, or trailers.

The virus is spread through rodent urine, saliva, or droppings. It can be contracted by breathing in or touching contaminated particles, by eating contaminated food or by being bitten by a deer mouse. It isn't spread between people, or through pets or livestock.

Anyone can contract hantavirus, regardless of age or gender.

You can avoid contracting hantavirus by:

  • Blocking openings that might allow rodents to enter a building.
  • Storing food, water and garbage in containers with tightly fitted lids.
  • Being aware of animal droppings and nesting materials when cleaning.
  • Ventilating the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning.
  • Using a wet mop and wearing gloves when cleaning.
  • Wearing goggles and a N95 filter mask when cleaning.
  • Dampening areas with bleach disinfectant that is one part water and nine parts bleach.
  • Avoiding using dry cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air-hosing.