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Coloradans: Beware of Hantavirus while spring cleaning.

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Springtime is well known for spring cleaning, especially those places that have been closed up for the winter, such as mountain cabins, sheds and storage buildings. But what many may not know is that they could be endangering their health by not taking a few simple precautions while cleaning these places.

Hantavirus is a respiratory disease that is caused by a virus found in rodent urine and faeces. It is found particularly in deer mice, and does not make the animal itself sick. Simply inhaling contaminated dust in areas that are polluted with mouse droppings can cause infection, and it is life-threatening. Initial symptoms are similar to the flu; chills, fever and muscle aches and pains. Then other, harsher symptoms occur, including difficulty breathing, headache and nausea. Finally, lung and kidney failure may develop. Even with aggressive treatment (oxygen, breathing tubes, and ribavarin), about half of all people who contract this disease die.

Seeing as rodents like to take up residence in semi-abandoned or abandoned buildings, especially during the winter, there are guidelines issued by National Institute of Health (NIH) as to how to go about cleaning these buildings safely when returning to them after the winter, like ventilating the building for at least 30 minutes before entering it by opening all windows and doors, then spraying everything down (workbenches, floors, etc) with a 10% solution of bleach or other disinfectant, waiting another 30 minutes to make sure they have taken effect, then wiping down all surfaces and vaccuuming floors while wearing plastic or rubber gloves and preferably a surgical mask.

Precautions should be taken while camping, too, like not sleeping or placing a sleeping bag directly on the forest floor, checking the area for obvious rodent nests and washing all camping/hiking gear thoroughly afterwards.

For more information visit the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's webpage on Hantavirus and the NIH's webpage regarding it.

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