Residents advised to take precautions against hantavirus

The Ministry of Health is reminding Saskatchewan residents to take precautions against hantavirus as the weather warms up.

"The risk of contracting hantavirus infection is currently low in Saskatchewan," Saskatchewan's Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Julie Kryzanowski said. "However, you can get hantavirus by breathing in contaminated airborne particles from the droppings, urine and saliva of infected deer mice."

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Hantavirus can cause a rare but potentially fatal lung illness known as Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome and exposure most often occurs when cleaning up enclosed buildings, or equipment and vehicles that have been in storage for the winter.

Symptoms usually start within one to six weeks of exposure and include fever, muscle aches, cough, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Some people develop severe symptoms that can be life threatening. Seek medical attention immediately if you have a cough, fever and shortness of breath.

To avoid exposure to Hantavirus, be aware of mouse droppings and nesting materials and take the following precautions when cleaning infested areas:

• Ventilate the building by opening doors and windows for at least 30 minutes before cleaning;

• Use wet mopping methods and wear rubber or plastic gloves;

• Wear goggles and a well-fitting N-95 type filter mask when cleaning areas contaminated by droppings in a confined space;

• Dampen areas contaminated with rodent droppings with bleach disinfectant and remove droppings with a damp mop or cloth;

• Avoid using dry cleaning methods such as dusting, sweeping, vacuuming or air-hosing;

• Steam clean, shampoo or spray upholstered furniture with a detergent, disinfectant or a mixture of bleach and water; and

• Wash clothes and bedding with detergent in hot water.

Also, take steps to reduce rodent infestations: 

• Block openings that might allow rodents to enter a building;

• Store human and animal food, water and garbage in containers with tightly-fitted lids; and

• Move woodpiles or other potential hiding places for mice away from your home.

Between 1994 and 2020, 36 cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome have been reported in Saskatchewan; 12 of those cases were fatal.