For the first time since 2001, Oklahoma has recorded a death from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, or hantavirus. The death occurred in a Texas County resident and is the third case confirmed in the state since hantavirus was first recognized in the U.S. in 1993.
Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice in Oklahoma. Infected rodents do not show signs of illness but shed the virus in their urine, droppings and saliva. The virus is transmitted to people when they breathe in air contaminated with the virus, usually when dried rodent urine, droppings or nesting materials are stirred up and tiny droplets or particles containing the virus become airborne. Breathing in the virus is the most common way of becoming infected. However, people can also become infected with hantavirus by touching the mouth or nose after handling contaminated materials, or through a bite from an infected rodent.
As the weather warms and persons begin cleaning out vacant cabins or other dwellings, barns and outbuildings, they may disturb rodent infestations, putting them at risk for hantavirus. Symptoms usually appear within two weeks of exposure to the virus, but can appear as early as three days to as late as six weeks after infection. Early symptoms include fever, chills, headache, cough, and body aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also be present. As the disease progresses, the lungs fill with fluid, making breathing very difficult. Any person involved in the activities described above and experiencing these symptoms, should contact their health care provider.
The key to preventing hantavirus is to avoid contact with rodents or rodent waste. To clean up areas contaminated with rodent waste, follow these steps.
Ventilate areas inside closed buildings at least 30 minutes.
Use rubber gloves and spray the nest, dead rodents, or droppings until soaked with a household disinfectant solution of 1½ cups of bleach in 1 gallon of water.
Remove the nest or rodent(s) using a long-handled shovel or rubber gloves.
Double-bag and dispose in trash. Persons in rural areas may bury the waste 2 to 3 feet deep.
Spray the area again with the disinfectant solution.
Using rubber gloves, wipe up the area with paper towels or rags and double-bag and dispose them in trash container.
Wash hands with soap and water immediately after the cleanup.
Additional steps to reduce exposure to rodents, and thus reduce the risk of hantavirus may be found at:
http://www.ok.gov/health/Disease,_Prevention,_Preparedness/Acute_Disease_Service/Disease_Information/Hantavirus.html or by calling the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Acute Disease Service at (405) 271-4060.