With the coming of spring also comes the annual spring cleaning of one’s garage, summer home or cabin and while these rites of spring are benign there are some health concerns associated with these chores.
Alberta Health Service (AHS) is currently taking preventative measures by informing local people about how to avoid contracting Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).
Hantavirus was first identified in Canada in 1994 and by reviewing earlier findings, researchers positively identified at least 3 cases preceding 1994, the first in 1989.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, between 1989 and 2015 there have been 109 confirmed Hantavirus cases in Canada resulting in 27 deaths.
Though instances of contracting Hantavirus are rare, there have been instances of severe and fatal Hantavirus infections locally, so the matter is of particular concern to AHS in this region.
Deer mice carry Hantavirus and it is present in their droppings, nests and in dead mice, so touching or disturbing these can leave people exposed to contracting HPS.
AHS recommends a number of precautions when cleaning areas where deer mice have potentially nested during the winter, starting with opening windows and doors 30 minutes prior to cleaning and leaving the windows and doors open while working.
Bleach is effective in neutralizing the virus. By dousing nests, droppings or dead mice using a one to 9 bleach and water solution for at least 5 minutes, effectively neutralizes the Hantavirus.
It is important that people take every precaution when dealing with an environment that might expose them to HPS and they should always be mindful to wear gloves and to wash the gloves and their hands after cleaning.
AHS also warns against vacuuming or sweeping up droppings, nests or dead mice as the dust generated by using a vacuum or broom can cause Hantavirus to be airborne.
After applying the bleach solution, it is best to clean up using a disposal cloth or paper towel.
Certain occupations put workers at risk of contracting HPS, especially in the farming and ranching sector where chores like sweeping out a barn and other ranch buildings are common or the risk of handling grain contaminated with mouse droppings and urine.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), employers are required to comply with relevant occupational health and safety regulations if their employees have potential exposure to rodents as part of their normal duties.
CCOHS also says that employers are usually required to “develop and implement an exposure control plan to eliminate or reduce the risk and hazard of Hantavirus in their workplace.”
Hiking and camping are activities where people can potentially contract HPS as tents and sleeping bags rest directly on the ground, so similar precautions should be taken.
Infected individuals usually show signs between one and two weeks after contracting Hantavirus. The symptoms are similar to having a sever flue: fever, body aches, chills and severe breathing problems.
At the first sign of exhibiting symptoms, one should see their doctor immediately.
For more information on Hantavirus go to MyHealth.Alberta.ca