Health Officials Urge Precautions Against Hantavirus
Rare Infection is Diagnosed in Sullivan County Illness
Albany, Feb. 19 –– Representatives from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and Sullivan County Public Health Services are reminding people to take precautions against hantavirus infection. The warning comes after the rare but sometimes fatal infection was diagnosed in a Pennsylvania resident who was temporarily living in Sullivan County. The individual was hospitalized in Pennsylvania and has since recovered.
Hantavirus is the microbe responsible for Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS), an unusual but severe and sometimes fatal lung infection. The virus is carried by mice and some other small rodents and is contracted by exposure to mouse droppings, urine or saliva. The deer mouse or white footed mouse is believed to be the most common carrier of the virus. This particular mouse species is found throughout New York State.
This is the third case of hantavirus infection identified in New York State. Two previous cases occurred in 1994 and 1995 in Suffolk County residents, both of whom died. Fortunately, hantavirus infections are very rare in the United States; only 200 cases have been identified nationally since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began tracking the disease in 1993.
The most recent case involved a man who moved into a hunting cabin in the western part of Sullivan County in October 1998 and became ill in mid–January. Testing of the patient's blood by the CDC confirmed the diagnosis of hantavirus. Interviews with the patient by Pennsylvania Department of Health representatives revealed that he had handled a number of mice that he had trapped in the cabin and did not wear gloves. Health officials are collecting rodent specimens in the vicinity the cabin and will test them for the presence of hantavirus. Routine testing of mice for hantavirus is not recommended and is only performed as part of case investigations or research studies.
Hantavirus causes a severe respiratory infection which can result in respiratory failure. Early symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. A cough and shortness of breath may develop due to a fluid buildup in the lungs. The incubation period or time between exposure and onset of symptoms varies widely from 3 days to 6 weeks. There is no evidence the virus being contagious through person–to–person contact. Unfortunately, there is no effective drug treatment for hantavirus and the fatality rate is 44%.
County and State Health Department representatives recommend the following steps to prevent hantavirus infection:
- Minimize food sources that attract rodents. Keep garbage covered and store pet food and bird feed in tightly sealed metal or heavy plastic containers. Do not leave uncovered pet food out overnight. Store foods such as cereal and grains in covered containers.
- Limit mouse nesting sites in or near the home. Store firewood away from the dwelling. Clear brush and grass away from foundation.
- Prevent rodent entrance into the home. Seal all small openings with steel wool, cement, wood filler or caulking.
- Reduce mouse population by use of "snap traps." Consult a licensed exterminator if a heavy mouse infestation is suspected. Snap traps can be placed on newspaper or in a paper grocery bag laid on its side so that the paper can be folded over and discarded in the trash without ever touching the mouse or trap.
- Prior to occupying or cleaning a seldom–used cabin or seasonal residence, open all windows and doors to air out the dwelling.
- Use personal protection. When cleaning up rodent contaminated areas, use coveralls (preferably disposable), rubber gloves and boots that can be disinfected with a bleach solution, after use. Wear a respiratory–type mask with a HEPA or N–100 filter and protective goggles.
- Wherever mouse droppings are noted, wet the area with a bleach solution (1 to 10 dilution) or disinfectant spray. After the area dries, wipe again with a damp paper towel. Enclose all disposable clean–up materials in a double plastic bag and discard in the trash.
- Dead mice, including the trap should be sprayed with disinfectant, folded up in newspaper (without touching the mouse or trap), placed in a double plastic bag and discarded in the trash.
- Do not dry sweep or vacuum areas contaminated by mice as this could aerosolize the hantavirus and place occupants at risk. Dispose of and replace the old vacuum cleaner bag.
For Further Information
Persons who are experiencing symptoms like those of hantavirus infection, are advised to contact their health care provider. Residents of Sullivan County area may contact the Sullivan County Public Health Services at (914) 292–0100, Ext. 2731 for more information. Persons residing elsewhere in the state should call their county health department.
Physicians who have questions about hantavirus infection or who wish to submit specimens to the State Health Department's Wadsworth Center Laboratories may call the NYSDOH, Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at (518) 473–4439 during normal business hours or 518–465–9720 nights and weekends.
News media are requested to contact the NYSDOH, Public Affairs Group, at (518) 474–7354.
A CDC website on hantavirus is also available at: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/diseases/hanta/hps/index.htm