HPS: The unseen killer

F.E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- The summer weather welcomes everyone back outside and the annual tradition of cleaning begins. Dusty garages are getting swept, the camping equipment that has been sitting in the corner is dusted off and everyone is looking forward to upcoming summer adventures. But what no one plans for is the less than adventuresome trip to the hospital as a result of the cleaning. Unfortunately, there have already been a few cases of this occurring in the United States this year as a result of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome.

HPS is an infectious disease characterized by flu-like symptoms that can progress rapidly to potentially life-threatening breathing problems. Sin Nombre Hantavirus is the most concerning and has the highest prevalence in the U.S. and Canada.

The primary host for Sin Nombre Hantavirus is the deer mouse. You come into contact with Hantavirus most commonly when you breathe in particles of rodent urine and droppings while sweeping. Once contact is made, the only way to know you have been exposed is through signs and symptoms. Typical signs and symptoms are seen within one to five weeks of exposure and may include fever, muscle aches of the thighs, hips and back, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. You may also experience coughing and shortness of breath. Severe cases may result in hospitalization in the intensive care unit. There is no cure or vaccine for HPS. The best weapon against HPS is prevention.

The best prevention method is to eliminate or minimize contact with rodents in your home, workplace, or campsite. If people come into contact with rodent urine or droppings, they should use proper cleaning techniques. People should wear rubber gloves for any clean-up, then spray the urine or droppings with a 10 percent bleach solution, let it soak, then wipe it up with a paper towel and dispose of it. Wash the gloves with bleach solution, then bare hands with soap and water. Other prevention strategies include sealing holes in the walls, using traps to capture mice, and maintaining a clean home.

Of all the HPS cases in the United States, 14.4 percent occurred in Colorado and Wyoming. Most infected individuals were unknowingly exposed to rodents and their droppings. It is recommended people ensure they keep their home, vacation place, workplace or campsite clean to minimize risks as much as possible. Be aware this summer while cleaning; utilize the proper cleaning techniques and you will lessen your chances of coming into contact with Hantavirus.