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FOR RELEASE: August 7, 2002
CONTACT: Janet Jones
Texas County Health Department
580/338-8544

Health Officials Investigate Probable Hantavirus Death

The Texas County Health Department and Oklahoma State Department of Health are investigating a probable case of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) in Texas County. If confirmed, this would be the third case to be verified in Oklahoma since this serious disease was first recognized in the United States in 1993, and the second case identified in Texas County within the last year.

The most recent case was a 31-year-old man who became ill with respiratory symptoms consistent with HPS and died this week. Tests are currently being performed at the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) to confirm that the cause was hantavirus.

Hantavirus is carried by wild rodents, particularly deer mice in Oklahoma and the southwestern United States. 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 containing the virus get into the air. Breathing in the virus is the most common way of becoming infected; however, you can also become infected with hantavirus by touching the mouth or nose after handling contaminated materials, or through a bite from an infected rodent.

Most cases of HPS have been associated with entering rodent-infested vacant cabins or other dwellings, cleaning barns or other outbuildings, disturbing rodent-infested areas while hiking or camping, planting or harvesting fields, and living in or visiting areas where there has been an increase in rodents. Cleaning in an around your home can also put you at risk for hantavirus if rodents have made it their home too. Rodents are more likely to enter homes when the weather turns cold.

Symptoms of HPS 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, lungs begin filling with fluid, making breathing very difficult. Any person who has been around rodents and experiences these symptoms, should contact their physician.

The key in preventing an illness caused by a hantavirus is avoiding rodents and rodent waste. The following steps will help reduce exposure to rodents and thus reduce the risk of developing HPS.

Indoors:

  • Keep a clean home, especially a clean kitchen (wash dishes, clean counters and floor, keep food covered in rodent-proof containers).
  • Keep a tight-fitting lid on garbage; discard uneaten pet food at the end of the day.
  • Set and keep spring-loaded rodent traps. Set traps near baseboards because rodents tend to run along walls and in tight spaces rather than out in the open.
  • Set Environmental Protection Agency-approved rodenticide with bait under plywood or plastic shelter along baseboards. These are sometimes known as "covered bait stations." Remember to follow product use instructions carefully, since rodenticides are poisonous to pets and people, too.
  • Seal all entry holes 1/4 inch wide or wider with lath (is this term correct?) screen or lath metal, cement, wire screening or other patching materials, inside and out.

Outdoors:

  • Clear brush, grass and junk from around house foundations to eliminate a source of nesting materials.
  • Use metal flashing around the base of wooden, earthen or adobe homes to provide a strong metal barrier. Install so that the flashing reaches 12 inches above the ground and six inches down into the ground.
  • Elevate hay, woodpiles and garbage cans to eliminate possible nesting sites. If possible, locate them 100 feet or more from your house.
  • Trap rodents outside, too. Poisons or rodenticides may be used as well, but be sure to keep them out of the reach of children or pets.
  • Encourage the presence of natural predators, such as non-poisonous snakes, owls and hawks.
  • Remember, getting rid of all rodents isn't feasible, but with ongoing effort you can keep the population very low and prevent them from entering in areas were people live.

To clean up areas potentially contaminated with rodent waste, 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. Make certain to wash hands with soap and water after the cleanup.

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