My family and I just got back from a camping trip in Michigan. While we were busy packing and then unloading supplies when we got to camp, the last thing on my mind was protecting everyone from wild rodents and their droppings. I was more worried about mosquito and tick bites. In light of the recent awareness of the Hantavirus, I will be taking more extensive safety precautions the next time we enjoy our stay in the outdoors.
What Is the Hantavirus?
The Hantavirus is a serious and often life threatening disease that you can get if you come into contact with the dust of a mouse nest or their droppings. Deer mice or wild rodents are a popular culprit of the Hantavirus and when they leave droppings or saliva behind, they can cause the disease to go airborne, even though they appear to be healthy.
Hantavirus is also referred to as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome or Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome, notes PubMed Health. Hantavirus is often mistaken for the common flu and is then treated with a light round of antibiotics, when in fact it needs to be attacked with more aggressive medications including ribavirin to help treat problems related to kidney failure and death. Some of the initial symptoms are flu-like including muscle aches, fever, chills, cough, general malaise, nausea, vomiting, headache and shortness of breath. In some cases, regular antibiotics may help temporarily relieve symptoms but they quickly return and worsen with 72 hours. The result will reveal kidney failure, hypotension, acute respiratory distress syndrome and liver failure.
Treatment is crucial to survival and you may need to be on oxygen therapy or require the assistance of a breathing machine in an intensive care unit. Lung failure is often present and over half of the people infected with the disease in their lungs do not survive.
Were you exposed?
The virus begins to show symptoms between 1 and 3 weeks after initial exposure, explains the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is important to be aware of your surroundings when you are in a musty cabin, outdoor camping site or exposed to mice or rodents in a barn or basement. Mice can make nests in camping supplies or other equipment that is stored in moist or low-lying areas. If you suspect you slept in an area or were cleaning an area that contains mouse droppings or nesting, consult with your physician for a medical evaluation. Tests, including a blood test to detect Hantavirus, CBC, liver and kidney function tests, complete metabolic panel and a chest X-ray will all contribute to a diagnosis if the virus has entered your body.
Protect yourself from getting Hantavirus
There are ways you can protect yourself from being exposed to the Hantavirus. Be sure to always drink clean distilled water, especially if you are traveling or don’t have access to filtered water. Avoid places where rodents are present such as rodent paths, attics, above the ceiling areas, crawlspaces, unused sheds and barns, infrequently used cabins and camping tents. Set traps for mice and rats in and around the area. If rodents are present, provide aeration by opening windows and doors so the area can air out for at least 30 minutes. Wearing a mask and protective gloves, use a solution of 10 percent chlorine bleach to 1 part water to spray all exposed areas. Allow to dry for 30 minutes. Collect nests and droppings as well as any dead mice with rubber gloves. Place mice, droppings and all used cleaning materials in a trash bag and dispose. Wash and disinfect all carpet, linens and other materials with bleach. Vacuum thoroughly and dispose of contents in a wrapped bag and dispose.
Taking the right precautions when traveling and staying outdoors or in a cabin or cabin tent will allow you to err on the side of caution. Don’t forget to pack disinfecting wipes, trash bags, protective gloves and masks next time you are staying in a cabin that may have rodent visitors. Speak with the campsite or cabin owner about any recent Hantavirus outbreaks and what measures are being taken to protect campers and park workers.