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New Mexico Department of Health reports hantavirus in Four Corners

One person has died from the virus this year
Hantavirus normally infects rodents and can cause potentially fatal disease in humans through contact with rodent urine, saliva or feces. (U.S. Department of Agriculture, via Flickr)

The New Mexico Department of Health Scientific Laboratory Division reported in a news release that three people with hantavirus pulmonary syndrome were discovered within the past two weeks, bringing the year’s total to five cases.

All of the people are unrelated, occurring in different locations in the Four Corners. Exact locations of the cases were not available for release, according to DOH public information officer David Morgan.

One person died from the virus. The four surviving patients all required hospitalization, including time in intensive care units, before being able to return home.

Hantavirus is a severe respiratory illness caused by the Sin Nombre virus. In New Mexico, deer mice are the main carriers of the virus, which is found in mice droppings and urine.

A person may become infected by inhaling the virus, which can happen when droppings or urine containing the virus are stirred up and the virus is put into the air as mist or dust. People also can get hantavirus by touching their eyes, nose or mouth after touching droppings or urine that contains the virus. It is not transmitted person to person.

People are usually exposed to hantavirus around their homes, cabins or sheds, especially when they clean out or explore enclosed areas with a lot of mouse droppings. Because mice may enter buildings for shelter, it is important to seal up homes and other structures used by people.

Early symptoms of infection may look and feel like the flu or a “stomach bug” and include fatigue, fever and muscle aches, possibly with chills, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cough, which progresses to respiratory distress and severe illness.

Symptoms typically develop in one to six weeks after rodent exposure, and although there is no specific treatment for hantavirus, chances for recovery are better if medical attention is sought early and the health care provider is given a report about environmental contact with rodents.

To prevent contracting hantavirus, the DOH recommends:

  • Air out closed or abandoned buildings or stored vehicles before entering.
  • Trap mice until they are all gone.
  • Seal homes and shelters to prevent rodents from entering.
  • Soak nests and droppings with a disinfectant such as a 10% bleach solution before cleaning them up.
  • Do not sweep rodent droppings into the air where they can be inhaled.
  • Put hay, wood and compost piles as far as possible from a home.
  • Get rid of trash and junk piles.
  • Do not leave pet food and water where mice can access it.

For more information, visit www.nmhealth.org.

For information about controlling wild rodent infestations, visit https://bit.ly/3MJuGo4.