Garfield County Public Health officials have confirmed the first case of the potentially deadly hantavirus involving a county resident since 2012, and are reminding people to take precautions especially when doing spring cleanup projects.
Carrie Godes, special projects coordinator for the county health department, said the recent case involved a Silt-area resident. That person survived and is recovering, she said.
It’s also the first case of hantavirus reported in Colorado this year, according to state health officials.
Details as to how the Garfield County resident was exposed to the virus were not available, though Godes said it typically happens when people begin cleaning sheds and other enclosed areas where deer mice have been.
Hantavirus is carried in the saliva, urine and droppings of deer mice.
“When contaminated dirt and dust are stirred up, the virus can become airborne, and most people become infected by breathing in the particles,” according to a Garfield County Public Health news release.
Infection can also occur from being bitten by an infected mouse, but the virus is not transmitted from person to person, health officials advise.
Hantavirus infections occur every year in Colorado, but the last human case of hantavirus in Garfield County was in 2012. While this disease can be deadly, the adult who became ill in 2012 also recovered.
Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data do show that there is a 36 percent mortality rate associated with hantavirus, according to the county’s news release.
Godes said the infrequent number of cases since the hantavirus was first discovered in the Four Corners area in 1993 can be attributed to the fact that people are not often in places with high concentrations of rodent excrements, and that not every rodent carries the virus.
“Our hope is also that people are learning that rodents in the western part of the United States, especially deer mice, can carry this virus, and are taking the necessary precautions,” Godes said.
There is always the potential for contracting the virus, though, which is why the usual precautions are a necessary reminder, she said.
Residents who have deer mice or related species of mice in or around their homes are most at risk for hantavirus, according to the county’s news release.
Risk of infection can be reduced by taking precautions while cleaning up areas where rodents have been present, controlling rodent populations in and around the home, and preventing rodents from entering the home and surrounding structures.
“Removal of rodent droppings is important to decrease the likelihood of exposure to hantavirus,” the release states. “People should not sweep or vacuum areas containing rodent droppings or dried rodent urine, as this disperses the risky airborne contaminants.”
See the related fact box for more information on how to lessen the risk for hantavirus infection.
Early symptoms of hantavirus infection include muscle aches, fatigue, high fever, dizziness, headaches, chills, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain, according to county health officials.
Within one to five days after early symptoms begin, late symptoms, consistent with respiratory distress, will begin. These include coughing and having difficulty breathing.
The onset of these symptoms can occur a few days to six weeks after exposure. Symptoms that are not hantavirus-related are sinus congestion, sneezing, runny nose and a cough producing phlegm, among others.
There is no specific treatment, cure or vaccine for hantavirus infection. However, individuals who recognize the symptoms and seek prompt medical treatment may have a better chance of recovery, the county’s news release states.
“Our hope is also that people are learning that rodents in the western part of the United States, especially deer mice, can carry this virus, and are taking the necessary precautions.”
special projects coordinator Garfield County Public Health