Keeping hantavirus at bay |

Keeping hantavirus at bay

EAGLE COUNTY – How time flies. Three weeks ago, I said I would continue our talk about hantavirus pulmonary syndrome next week. Well, the best intentions may go awry when a family trip to explore Colorado along with hiking, biking and fishing comes along. It was wonderful.As we know, the Sin Nombre virus and the hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) it causes are still out there. I hope you don’t have pesky deer mice in your home depositing their unwanted droppings along their travels. If you do, keep your disinfectant at hand before you clean up after them. Prevention is indeed the best medicine.Dear Doc: I have been cleaning and have had a problem with mice in my pantry, closets and garage. Someone told me to be careful cleaning up after them. Why, and what do I need to do?- Cleaning Up in EagleDear Cleaning up: This week I would like to talk about the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, as well as some tips on mouse proofing your house. Like many viruses, the early symptoms are non specific and difficult to diagnose. Nearly all those who will go on to develop hantavirus pulmonary syndrome will have fatigue, fevers and muscle aches in the thighs, hips, backs and sometimes shoulders. These symptoms usually appear one to five weeks after exposure to infected rodent urine, droppings or saliva. Fifty percent of those infected will have other symptoms including headaches, dizziness, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain.Four to 10 days after someone develops the initial signs of illness, the serious symptoms of HPS occur. These include a cough and rapidly worsening shortness of breath. Ultimately respiratory and cardiac failure develop as the lungs fill with fluid and cardiogenic shock occurs. If supportive care is received in an intensive care unit, 65 to 70 percent of those infected will survive and have a complete recovery. Even with the best care, the fatality rate is nearly 35 percent. With advances in early diagnosis and treatment, it is hoped that those statistics will continue to improve.Although some people with HPS do not have a history of exposure to mouse or rodent droppings, tell your doctor if you have been exposed and develop the early symptoms of fatigue, fever and muscle aches. If there is a sufficient suspicion of HPS, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that physicians test the complete blood count or CBC. Ninety-eight percent of people with HPS will have a platelet (the blood clotting cells) count less than 150,000 early in the illness. The platelet count will always drop below 100,000 later in the disease.While that is a brief summary of what to look for in HPS, it is also important to know that an earache, rash, sore throat and runny nose are all uncommon symptoms. If they are present, the diagnosis is less likely.The final important consideration in HPS is preventing exposure to mice by taking a few simple steps. Think of it as trap up, seal up and clean up. Trap up means using snap traps or other means to reduce or eliminate the mouse population in your house, garage and other buildings. Seal up refers to closing any gap into your home or building larger than a pencil to prevent future mice from entering. This can be done with caulk, steel wool or wire mesh. Finally, clean up involves using gloves, respirators and especially a disinfectant solution when cleaning mouse-exposed areas.Other steps include keeping food cleaned up after meals and stored in thick metal or plastic containers. Keep pet food stored in mouse proof containers with heavy well-sealed lids. Remove mouse hiding or nesting areas around the house and yard, and keep woodpiles one hundred feet away from the house and stored one foot off the ground.For more detailed information on cleaning up and mouse proofing, go to: informative Web (Eagle County’s own Web page with lots of information and more links.) (The Centers for Disease Control Web site.) (Colorado’s Department of Public Health Web site.)On a final note, I would like to congratulate all our young people who worked tirelessly on their 4-H projects at the Eagle County Fair and Rodeo. Your hard work makes us proud. The livestock auction was once again exciting and a great success. Congratulations to the champions. Finally a thank you and congratulations to everyone who worked so hard to make the Fair and Rodeo a success. Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.Vail, Colorado

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