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Risk posed by mice

Dr. Drew Werner

EAGLE COUNTY – Which gives you the creepy crawlies more?a) Things that go bump in the night.b) Spiders, beetles and other creatures with exoskeletons.c) Cute little fuzzy mice.d) Slithering snakes.If you answered anything other than “c,” read on. If the cute little fuzzy mice make your skin crawl, perhaps this article will explain why.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 year certainly has been a problem for us and a boom for our rodent pests. The mild and moist spring has been kind to mice, ground squirrels and other furry critters. While none of us appreciate the holes in our lawns or droppings left in our pantries and closets, it is what cannot be seen that should give you the creepy crawlies.What I am talking about is the virus “without name.” It was first discovered in 1993 in the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. It caused a severe respiratory and circulatory system failure. The virus was identified in November 1993 and called the “Sin Nombre Virus,” as it was previously unidentified. Gradually the same virus was seen, although rarely, in each state in the continental United States. Only in Alaska and Hawaii has the virus never been identified. The virus’ full name is hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or HPS. We know it simply as hantavirus. In fact, hantavirus is a misnomer, as it is actually the name of an entire class of viruses carried by rodents. The Sin Nombre Virus which causes hantavirus pulmonary syndrome is carried in our area by the deer mouse. Although it remains very rare, the number of cases has been on the rise this year largely due to our weather and the increase in the rodent population.Since 1993 there have been 46 cases of HPS. Of those 46 cases, 16 people have died. The number of cases is equally divided between men and women with an age range between 12 and 69 years old. That age span is likely due to the actual risk of exposure. Mice by themselves are not infectious, but rather the virus is spread through their urine and stool. As we all know, they are not very polite creatures, pooping and peeing wherever the fancy strikes them. As we clean up after them, the virus becomes airborne and we breathe it in.The good news is that contacting the virus is very preventable. We just need to keep mice out of our houses, and disinfect any mice droppings carefully before cleaning or disturbing them. Here is a list of recommendations from the Centers for Disease Controlwhen cleaning areas with mice droppings:– Wear rubber gloves– Spray mouse urine and droppings with a mixture of bleach and water or general purpose household disinfectant.– Soak the area well and let the disinfecting solution sit for at least five minutes.– Clean up the area with paper towels and immediately dispose of them in the trash.– Mop or sponge the area again with the same disinfecting solution.– Spray the solution on the gloves before taking them off.– Dispose of the gloves with the paper towels.– Wash your hands with soap and water or a hand sanitizer when you are done– Enjoy your clean house and knowing you are not at risk for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.Most household disinfectants with the word “disinfectant” on the label will work fine. If you want to make your own solution just mix one and a half cups of bleach with 1 gallon of water, or one part bleach to nine parts water for smaller amounts. If you are using bleach or any household chemicals, be careful not to mix them. Combining different products can result in dangerous toxic fumes.Next week I will talk a bit more about the symptoms of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, as well as mouse-proofing your house. In the meantime you can find more information at the following Web sites:www.eaglecounty.us/envHealth/ (Eagle County’s own Web page with lots of information and more links.)www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hanta/hps/index.htm (The Centers for Disease Control Web site.)www.cdphe.state.co.us/dc/zoonosis/hanta/hantahom.html (Colorado Department of Public Health Web site.)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 editor@vaildaily.com or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658. Vail, Colorado


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