Rodents running rampant in High Country |

Rodents running rampant in High Country

Cliff Thompson
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyA lone chipmonk eats a piece of a chocolate chip cookie after invading a family picnic Monday at Beaver Creek Lake on Beaver Creek Mountain.

EAGLE COUNTY – By mid-summer Ted and Jenny Neilsen of Edwards knew they had a problem. They’d already trapped 24 mice at their condo and every night brought more.The Neilsens, who have two young children, were worried there seemed to be no end to the number of mice and called a pest control company that helped put an end to the problem. They aren’t alone. The story is the same all across the county.Wet summer weather and luxuriant growth of the plants the rodents eat has caused a population explosion in Eagle County and across the state. It’s the year of the mouse, ground squirrel and vole, and pest companies are busier than they can ever remember while homeowners are stocking up on traps and removing mouse carcasses caught by their cats from their homes.At City Market in Eagle, Manager Stan Blair said the store had to increase the number of mouse traps it ordered just to keep up with demand.”It has been a tremendous mouse year,” said Dale Nesbitt of Mountain Pest Control. “This year we’ve had eight to 10 times the number of calls in previous years. It’s been unbelievable.”

John Pape, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the rodent populations have been suppressed by successive years of drought, but the rains this year changed all that.”More food means more rodents,” he said. The ability of rodents to produce numerous litters of multiple offspring in a season means two mice can quickly become several hundred or several thousand, he said. More mice is more than just a nuisance because one common mouse – the white-footed deer mouse – can spread the often deadly hantavirus to humans. It’s fatal to 44 percent of the humans it infects, Pape said.”It’s a rare disease,” said Pape. “We see a couple of cases a year. The more rodents you have around you, the higher the risk.”Mouse-human encounters may increase as cold weather drives both inside. Deer mice have large ears and are brown on top and have a white underside while the common gray house mouse is all gray and has small ears.

Avoiding illnessIf you’re thinking about cleaning out a mouse-infested area, you need to take some precautions to limit your exposure to hantavirus, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment says.The first thing to do is rid an area of mice and then rodent-proof it so more no more mice can move in. Before you begin cleaning an area covered with dirt and mouse droppings, wet it down with a mixture of bleach and water. That will limit dust. Hantavirus is transmitted to humans when dust from mouse droppings is inhaled.Symptoms of hantavirus usually appear two weeks after exposure and include a high fever and severe muscle pain in the legs and back. Initially there are no respiratory symptoms, but as the disease progresses fluid will accumulate in the lungs and breathing becomes difficult.

A second disease associated with rodents is the bubonic plague. It’s spread to humans by flea bites. Unlike hantavirus, bubonic plague is treatable with antibiotics. The plague can have a very rapid onset, Pape said. Symptoms include high fever and nausea.”You can feel good in the morning and in the afternoon feel like you’ve been run over by a truck,” he said.A large, swollen and typically painful lymph node or buboe develops where the bacteria entered the body, Pape said.Only two cases of plague were reported in the state last year.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or Colorado

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